Guy Blythman


Guy Blythman

(c) Guy Blythman 2011

Work on this book began in 1998 and it was more or less completed at the time, but has been revised since

(1) Foreword: the Nature of Philosophical Enquiry
(2) Berkelian Idealism and the Existence of God
(3) Free will
(4) Ethics Pt One
(5) Ethics, Pt Two: Morality in the field of domestic and foreign politics
(6) Social Issues: Capital Punishment, Abortion, Euthanasia,
Animal Rights, Embryo Research, Genetic Engineering, Pornography and Sexual Morality
(7) Memory and Personal Identity
(8) Artificial Intelligence
(9) The Logic of Emotions
(10) Meditations on God, Time and Space
(11) Parallel Universes – the Case Against
(12) Miscellany

Foreword: the Nature of Philosophical Enquiry
Philosophy is best defined as an attempt at an overall analysis of the human condition, and the universe in which it is lived out. It asks why we are here, what our ultimate destiny may be, and what is the best way to behave towards one another. In doing so its purpose is threefold. One, it allow us to have the pleasure of intellectual discourse. Two, it suggests solutions to important issues affecting the wellbeing of society. Thirdly, even though we may not be able to find entirely satisfactory answers to all the great questions – certainly not ones that everybody agrees with – the fact that we can engage with those issues, discuss them in some kind of sensible fashion, and maybe reach conclusions which satisfy at least the individuals who arrive at them, gives us a kind of working model of the universe we seek to comprehend. It means we are less likely to be crushed by the weight of a cosmos which we don’t understand and is often flawed; left bewildered and frightened and depressed by it. It therefore uplifts that human condition and permits us to attain dignity.
It most certainly isn’t, as some philosophers have believed in the past, solely the study of language. Language cannot be the only purpose of philosophy because language must have a subject, i.e. must describe something which exists separately from itself. Without the subject there is nothing for language to do, and in any case you have to explain why the creatures who can use it are able to be present in the first place. It’s 50/50; without the language we cannot properly describe existence, but without the subject there is no existence! Unless we can understand the subject we cannot determine whether the language it is speaking makes any sense. It seems strange anyone should recognise one side of the coin but ignore the other.
We are all philosophers to some extent, even those who aren’t particularly clever or educated, merely because we wonder sometimes why we came to be here and sometimes come up with answers that satisfy us, even though they may ultimately be flawed. It is one thing which marks us as all being members of the human family. We are all seeking the truth.
But what is the truth? Martin Cohen, in 101 Philosophy Problems (Routledge 1999) sets us the following puzzle:
“Farmer Field is concerned about his prize cow, Daisy. In fact, he is so concerned that when his dairyman tells him that Daisy is in the field happily grazing, he says he needs to know for certain. He doesn't want just to have a 99 per cent idea that Daisy is safe, he wants to be able to say that he knows Daisy is okay. Farmer Field goes out to the field and standing by the gate sees in the distance, behind some trees, a white and black shape that he recognises as his favourite cow. He goes back to the dairy and tells his friend that he knows Daisy is in the field. At this point, does Farmer Field really know it? The dairyman says he will check too, and goes to the field. There he finds Daisy, having a nap in a hollow, behind a bush, well out of sight of the gate. He also spots a large piece of black and white paper that has got caught in a tree. Question: Daisy is in the field, as Farmer Field thought. But was he right to say that he knew she was?”
Answer: No. We are never correct in saying that we know anything as long as there is the slightest possibility we may be mistaken; we just don’t realise we are mistaken. It is only true to say that we believe it is the case, however absurd that may seem. We know from such as examples as Farmer Field and Daisy that we can quite easily be wrong about something when we are quite positive we are not. Believing is a different thing from knowing in the usual sense (though religious belief comes into a different category from either, and should be viewed with that difference in mind). Believing is to conclude that something is the case on evidence which may in fact be misleading, whether or not one realises it is, whereas knowing is to apprehend something with absolute certainty, every possible cause of error having been anticipated and avoided, such that there cannot be any doubt about it and to know that there cannot be any doubt. Because of the limitations of the human mind, and because he did not know that because of those limitations he was going to make a mistake (or it wouldn’t have been the latter), Farmer Field merely thinks he knows that Daisy is in the field, and doesn’t know that he only thinks he knows.
The above proves we shouldn’t take things for granted. But to some extent at least, we are capable of ascertaining the truth about the universe through enquiry, for argument’s sake or because we need to for practical purposes. So what should the starting point of our knowledge be? The most fundamental and important truth would seem to be our own existence, because without existing we cannot do a great deal else. That we exist seems so obvious that to doubt we do comes over as ludicrous and pedantic, like the character Mr Logic in Viz comic who refuses to do anything unless it can first be subjected to detailed philosophical analysis in order to decide if it’s worth it. Perhaps those who find Mr Logic a pain in the backside are right; but all the same, it’s instructive to know why we know we exist. Rene Descartes, as part of the new mood of enlightened rationality beginning to percolate through Europe in the seventeenth century, by which established certainties needed to be questioned to prove their validity, doubted his existence and then concluded that if he did not exist he would not have been able to doubt that he did. Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. This is probably as close to a satisfactory solution to the question as we’re likely to get. Bertrand Russell queried it: “But some care is needed in using Descartes’ argument. “I think, therefore I am” says rather more than is strictly certain. It might seem as though we were quite sure of being the same person today as we were yesterday, and this is no doubt true in some sense. But the real Self is…hard to arrive at…and does not seem to have that absolute, convincing certainty that belongs to particular experiences. When I look at my table and see a certain brown colour, what is quite certain at once is not “I am seeing a brown colour”, but rather “a brown colour is being seen.” This of course involves something (or somebody) which (or who) sees the brown colour; but it does not of itself involve that more or less permanent person whom we call “I”. So far as immediate certainty goes, it might be that the something which sees the brown colour is quite momentary, and not the same as the something which has some different experience the next moment.” (The Problems of Philosophy (1912), p7-8 (1980 edition).
The issue is similar to that of free will; there could be a demon trying to deceive us into thinking we exist, just as there could be one deceiving us into believing our thoughts are not determined. For the brown colour to be seen there must be an entity which does the seeing, as well as the brown colour. But is it always the same one? However, even if I am not the same entity from one moment to the next, being constantly annihilated and replaced, and each “me” merely inherits the memories of its predecessor (if it is possible for one person to inherit another’s memories), the result would still be a workable substitute for a permanent consciousness, with a perception of itself and of the world around it that suited its needs. Furthermore it has always been the case that everyone, including Bertrand Russell, has chosen to live as if Descartes was correct and the fact of doubting our existence – or, for that matter, the mere appearance of obvious existence – in fact proves we exist. They cannot therefore complain when the application of reason, based on the principle that we exist and therefore there is some point to our philosophical deliberations, produces conclusions on important questions which they are not comfortable with; for everything stems from the fact of existence, there being no sense in believing in God or free will, for example, or not believing in them, unless we are around to do so. In living as if we do exist they not only accept the fact of existence but everything else that reason suggests we can be sure of (if it does) on matters trivial and vital, including the reality of free will and the existence of God. It may be they only accept the reality of our existence out of convenience, and would admit to doing so, but that is no excuse.
In answering philosophical questions and practical problems our mainstay must be logical reasoning. Logic is incontrovertible; it is what must be true in all possible worlds, all possible eventualities. This tends to be most appreciated in the field of mathematics – no-one in their right mind would deny that two plus two equals four, whatever their views on religion or ethics or free will - yet must apply to any logical conclusion which is based on full cognisance of the facts. Logic is the ultimate determinant of what is possible or impossible, true or untrue, within the universe; since it is incontrovertible it must apply everywhere and in all things. It spans both the abstract and the concrete worlds. It means that if one has a certain intellectual or emotional goal, subscribes to it strongly enough, and B is necessary for the achievement of that goal, one will do B, or at least ought to do B; it means that two or more material objects cannot occupy the same point in space at the same time, and that whatever is half full must necessarily be half empty.

We do not know in every case exactly what, in the end, logic prohibits or permits, because our knowledge of the universe is incomplete. This has a bearing on, for example, what technological developments (and therefore political, social and economic ones) may be possible in the future. Let’s take, for example, the matter transporter featured in Star Trek and other fictional worlds. If ultimately it is not possible, for some reason, for Scotty to “beam up” Captain James T Kirk, to transmit people safely from one point in the universe to another by breaking them down into their constituent atoms and transmitting the latter like radio waves, that could be viewed as a scientific not a logical impossibility. It could be more to do with the nature of atoms than the nature of logic. Although, since logic ultimately determines what can and cannot happen in the Universe, it can be called a logical impossibility as well; ultimately it all boils down to whether one particle or wave can interact with another particle or wave in a certain fashion and if it cannot, then logically it cannot be used to produce the result one wants, if the interaction is a necessary prerequisite for doing so. It would be perfectly correct to argue that if the nature of atoms is such that they cannot be broken down in such a precise way, then it is logically impossible to transport them in the form seen in science. But, for all we know it is not scientifically impossible to break down matter in this way, which means it would not be a logical impossibility either. (I have always found it conceivable, at least, provided you would not have to know where each individual atom was which would probably be impossible; I suppose if you found that in certain conditions matter could be broken down, transmitted and reassembled without any hitch but didn’t necessarily know how it happened, you wouldn’t have to know but simply repeat the process).
So the matter transporter, and probably a lot of other things as well, can be regarded as scientifically unproven but not necessarily impossible; they may be, but that will be for the future to determine. There is nothing in them which, at the moment, appears to me to defy the laws of reason. There may be a whole host of wonders out there waiting to be discovered or invented; logic will not permit anything to exist/happen that contradicts it but equally it does not forbid anything which does not contradict it, since that would be pointless and therefore illogical. It won’t exceed its brief, won’t do things for which there are no reason, but nor can it prevent things to which it has no particular objection.
Logic has its critics. As long as you are not in possession of all the facts, it is quite possible to come up with a theory which is impeccably logical and entirely wrong. This does not apply to metaphysics, where there are no "facts" in any case, in the sense encountered elsewhere (but where you may still be wrong if your reasoning is flawed), but it does in other matters. I shall be quoting from Doctor Who a lot during the course of this book, if only because I used to be a great fan of the programme, although such devotion seems more acceptable these days, probably because of the accession to power and influence of that generation which grew up on it. In the story The Caves of Androzani the character Morgus, a powerful business tycoon on the planet Androzani Major, has been financing a war on its colony world, Androzani Minor, for his own advantage. The war is over Spectrox, a substance found only on Androzani Minor and much in demand on the home planet because it prolongs the human life-span. Renegade scientist Sharaz Jek is sitting on a hoard of the stuff and refusing to share it. Morgus reaches a perfectly logical but totally incorrect conclusion when the Doctor, who has been falsely accused of gunrunning and apparently executed, is revealed to be alive and well and a prisoner of the chief of the real gunrunners, who captured him on Androzani Minor. Morgus decides the execution was faked, suggesting that the Androzanian leaders suspect someone is supplying Jek’s troops with arms for their own profit and may be on to him. Partly because of this, he murders the Androzanian President and tries to do a runner with Jek’s stock of Spectrox. In fact, though the execution was faked, it wasn’t by the authorities in some plan to entrap Morgus. What actually happened was that Sharaz Jek’s android soldiers rescued the Doctor and his companion Peri, substituting android replicas for them at the last moment, because Jek had taken a fancy to Peri. Morgus was labouring under a misapprehension, with fateful consequences.
But this is not logic, merely a mistake. It is generally accepted in the first place that logical deductions must be based on a first premise which is not flawed; that there may be more than one possible explanation for a particular fact, and if possible (sometimes it may not be) we should try to ascertain which is the correct one. Morgus is simply proceeding on the basis of incomplete knowledge; he failed to consider the possibility that there might have been other reasons for the Doctor’s survival. We can no more discard logic because it is sometimes flawed than we should stop using motor cars because sometimes they don’t work, especially when logic is generally required to solve important everyday problems and when acting illogically leads to inappropriate and antisocial behaviour or forming opinions on social, political and intellectual matters which are ill-considered, if not prejudiced, and therefore dangerous and misleading to those who are tempted to share them. We need logic to prevent this happening just as we need cars to get around and conduct business efficiently within a modern society. In another Doctor Who story the eponymous Time Lord tells one of his companions, an intellectually brilliant young lady who is getting a bit above herself, that logic merely enables one to be “wrong with authority.” By definition logic in the first place cannot be wrong; where it is wrong it is therefore not logic and it is something else entirely which is being criticised here, whatever the intentions of those doing the criticising and the language they are using. Logic may be based on a faulty first premise but is not, in itself, discredited by that. The consequences of abandoning it would clearly be worse than putting up with its faults, which are only faults because of the way imperfect humans can get their first premises wrong or misuse logic with the result that they become too dogmatic or emotionless. Logic practised in a doctrinaire or soulless fashion is in fact illogic, for logic demands that a view be right because it is logical and not just because I say it is - and also, as we will see in a later chapter, proves that emotional gratification is desirable. Many science fiction fans are ardently anti-racist; if they agree with the Doctor’s view, it should be pointed out to them that if they reject the use of logic in one area they would have to reject it in others, and refuse to condemn the attitudes of racial bigots as illogical (which they are); and of course they wouldn’t stand for that. Generally, unless affected by severe mental illness, human beings do recognise the need for logic, it’s just that their nature means they don’t always practise it properly.
Logic essentially involves the use of empirical reasoning – that is, reasoning based on examining not only objectively but in as much detail as possible the evidence for or against a proposition being true. If Farmer Field had been a philosopher in more than the sense in which everyone is, he might have gone into the field himself to look for Daisy and carried out an intensive search which would have included close examination of objects that appeared to be Daisy in case first impressions had been mistaken. Until this process of empirical verification is completed we have no warrant to declare for or against the validity of a given belief. It strikes me that it would be very dangerous, as well as wrong intellectually, to make a habit of assuming things to be true without fully checking that assumption. Ideally we should seek knowledge only empirically (knowledge so gained is called “a posteriori” (meaning posterior to)). However, it is inevitable that we should use a priori (meaning prior to) knowledge – that whose truth we see as self-evident, examples being the fact of our existence and of being able to think - some of the time. Life becomes too difficult otherwise. Although, if empirical knowledge is knowledge gained from experience, then there may not be that much difference between it and a priori knowledge. We establish that a truth is self-evident only through philosophical reflection, this reflection and the conclusions it results in being in one sense an “experience”. What we see as a priori we have no reason to inquire into, but first we need to be satisfied that it is a priori and that a priori reasoning, like cogito ego sum (which may be an example of it) gives us an acceptable working model of the universe. The awareness that we exist, and can think, and can conceptualise our thoughts, plus the awareness that we are aware, is something we acquire over a period of time, and partly through philosophical reflection, just as a scientist empirically determines the boiling point or the various chemical properties of a liquid by testing and carrying out experiments. This is experience in the sense of having consciously examined a proposition (such as that we exist) and concluded, if only because of the absence of evidence to the contrary, that it is true, though it is different from other categories of experience such as going into a field to look for a cow and finding that it is there. If one of the cardinal principles of philosophy is to be open-minded, then just as we must accept that some things are a priori and that a priori truths are valid, logic needs to consider the possibility that it is not the only way of acquiring knowledge. When rational enquiry proves insufficient to do the job, we may have to use other methods, and the fact is it sometimes is insufficient. The other methods must of course be compatible with it, even if different from it in nature, since whatever truly is logical cannot be disproved. Yet if they are compatible with it, as I believe is the case, that is itself significant, too much of a coincidence not to indicate that we are looking at two sides of the same coin. Intuition is a quality that philosophers are understandably not happy with, as it is difficult to categorise. It seems the joker in the pack. It does sometimes turn up trumps; yet in most cases logical reasoning is essential because intuitive knowledge is something that tends to come in a flash, and thus is not always available. Intuition should be respected, but only used in the last resort.
It is best described as suprarational or a-rational. So too is religious knowledge. Nowdays the latter is regarded by many philosophers as being unverifiable. Certainly theological beliefs cannot be scientifically proven (if they could, they wouldn’t be theological beliefs but rather agreed fact) although the literal truth of a Biblical, Koranic etc. statement can be disproven quite easily. But it is not true to say even in the case of religion that no empiricism, meaning at this point philosophical enquiry which goes beyond merely accepting, if necessarily, the apparently obvious is involved. Nowadays most intelligent religious people recognise the need to demonstrate that religion is not incompatible with science even if it cannot be proven by it. They may themselves feel that nothing could ever shake their faith but others who are more sceptical may need convincing. They could not believe something that reason and logic had disproved, however strong one's intuitive feelings about it were.
The process of demonstrating the compatibility between religion and science involves both an understanding of science itself and philosophical reflection. The belief that the cosmos must have been created by an intelligent agency, whose existence the nature of things somehow makes possible, because otherwise it just happened to have spontaneously plopped into being which would have been even more absurd, and that this view can be justified by Conan Doyle’s principle that once you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth is an example of philosophical reasoning (because either the universe was created by an intelligent agency or else it wasn’t). Then there is the spiritual aspect to religious belief, which is based on a conviction, difficult to describe in words, that certain things are fundamentally and inalienably true without being verifiable by the normal means. This spirituality is often emotional rather than coldly logical, and yet it does not necessarily indicate mental dysfunction, outside a relatively small minority, and like intuition (a quality it resembles in many ways) is not, significantly perhaps, incompatible with rational enquiry. The seeming inconsistency between the Bible claiming that the world was created in seven days, and the evidence of science which would indicate otherwise, is less of a problem if we appreciate that it was not intended to be taken literally even by the audience at whom it was originally aimed. And the presentation of two very different and obviously incompatible Creation stories in the Book of Genesis means we are not being invited to accept the less credible one (in which woman is fashioned from man’s spare rib instead of being a product of the sexual dimorphism we know to have always been a feature of all vertebrate, and many invertebrate, animals) as truth. Even if we concede that theological claims cannot be subject to empirical reasoning, spiritual knowing is like intuition – just a different kind of knowledge, one which cannot be disproved by rational means, so that it may be complementary to logic rather than discredited by it, and therefore shouldn’t be sneered at.
Scientific knowledge falls into the category of empirical enquiry as it is verified by experimentation. That science justified in this way is truth is proven by the fact that much of modern technology is based on it. But bear in mind that a lot of science is theory rather than practice. The nature of the subjects under investigation (for the secrets of the universe are often hard for mere Man to crack) means that for a time at least it is necessary to treat some things which have not been firmly proven as true, or to proceed as if they are, in order to have a working model by which to go when carrying out research. Sometimes the theory turns out to be supported by the facts and sometimes it doesn't. Certainly it can be superseded by other theories or at least subsumed within them, as Einstein’s have subsumed Newton’s. That a lot of science is theory means it can be discredited as well as proven. And scientists do not always agree on the fundamentals; there remains controversy over whether the steady state or “Big Bang” theory is the correct explanation for the existence of the universe. There are also considerable gaps in their knowledge. Although they claim to have cracked the human genome and to know what each gene is basically for, they still don’t know why those genes sometimes behave in ways that are quite unexpected, recessive ones occasionally proving dominant. These things suggest that science can’t say it necessarily knows better than religion. On the subject of religion, you will find that some of the time the book is written as if from a Christian point of view. To some extent this is unavoidable, because I am a Christian, as is implied by my conclusions in the second chapter. I make no apology for that because it is where my philosophical reasoning has led me over the last thirty years or so. But to justify the ways of God to Man, and to deal with the various arguments against His existence and/or benevolence would take a whole book (which I am currently working on) in itself and it isn’t my brief to do it here. In the meantime we need to treat the existence, or non-existence, of God as a legitimate philosophical question because of the implications for Man’s place in the universe, and our attitudes to religion and each other, if He does. But much of what is said in this book will, I believe, be of relevance irrespective of one’s religious beliefs or lack of them.
One last point. In the pursuit of knowledge we have perhaps a certain dilemma, in that there is a compulsion if not a need to find out as much about the universe as possible, yet the more we do find out the less exciting things may seem. There is, of course, the often-heard remark that the more one finds out the less one knows. This is often true, and is a reflection of the fact that our knowledge of the universe is incomplete. Whether it means that facts about the universe are not ultimately finite, I don’t know.
A fact about the universe is basically the particles which make up something being arranged in a certain way, or behaving in a certain fashion (the former being a fact in itself while also making possible the latter). So, much depends on whether the number of ways in which particles are arranged is infinite. I don’t know if it is or not. All I can say is that if we, in this life or some afterlife, knew everything but could still be happy (or something ultimately prevents us from knowing everything, while allowing us enough knowledge both to be practically useful and to ensure the dignity of the human condition, because knowing everything would be disastrous), that would be sufficient because a philosopher’s goal should be to promote happiness. Knowledge by itself is not enough. We may disagree with Schopenhauer’s contention that it was not the business of philosophers to seek happiness; as I will be arguing in a later chapter reason, which should be a philosopher’s stock-in-trade, demands if anything that we do so. Nor does it seem to be the case that knowledge in itself, however much of it there is, makes things less interesting. Keats thought Newton had spoiled the beauty of the rainbow by explaining why it had the colours it did. Richard Dawkins, wrong-headed on so many issues, is quite right when he says it doesn’t, and if someone like him, whose notorious dislike of religion is rooted in its being, because it can’t be proven by research and experimentation, unscientific, can take this view then so can anyone else. It generally doesn’t affect the sum total of human happiness. I don’t see millions of people jumping off bridges because Newton has spoiled the beauty of the rainbow, citing that as the reason for their action in their suicide notes. And that is what counts. As I said, the main thing is to be happy.

I first became interested in philosophy, and bought my first book on the subject, at the age of fourteen. The issues interested me and I felt there was a kind of challenge in attempting to understand, and derive my own answers to, them. A year or so later when I joined the Sixth Form at school I took a course on the subject. I soon realised however that I had problems with philosophy as an academic discipline. I seemed to have a sort of one-way intellectual dyslexia in that I could understand perfectly what I wrote about philosophy but not, much of the time, what other philosophers did. Not only that, but the trouble with philosophy is that because of its nature there is no set and generally agreed upon body of facts which can be taught and learned in an objective fashion as a body of received truth. There is a danger that the tutor may resolve the problem by dogmatically imposing their own personal beliefs on the class, and this is what happened. Even though the lessons were intended to be part of a wider Religious Studies course, mine maintained that they were not about using reason to debate the likelihood of there being deities, or why people were led to believe in them, but rather that philosophy was the study of language.
In the end I gave up the course, but have continued to be interested in the subject, both reading and writing about it. In the early 2000s I joined the Royal Society of Philosophy, thinking it would give me a platform for my views and an opportunity to contribute to intellectual discussion at a high level. I wanted to write something for its journal, but found that people without qualifications in the subject were not allowed to do so. I said I thought non-academic philosophers should be allowed their say and was told the society would shortly be bringing out a new journal, called Think, which was intended with precisely this purpose in mind. I think the officials of the society may have misunderstood me and thought I was talking about the audience the society’s literature was aimed at, not who wrote it; that apart, even though the content of Think was so basic as to be easily digestible by people much less intelligent than myself, actual contribution to the magazine was restricted to academic philosophers as had been the case with the journal. I naturally found this deeply insulting as well as frustrating. There seems to be no way for an intelligent layperson with an interest in the subject, who wants to put that interest and that intelligence to the service of themselves and of culture by expounding their views in a suitable forum, to break down this barrier; they are excluded as an outsider and an interloper. Snobbery can of course be academic, intellectual, as well as social.
It may seem a case of sour grapes, but in any case I feel those who were freezing me out weren’t talking much sense anyway. The trouble with philosophy now is that it is couched in language which the ordinary citizen finds hard to understand. A lot of the time philosophers may have been pointing out in unnecessarily complicated terns that 2 + 2 = 4. Or worse. This doesn’t seem to be an uncommon perception; only the other day someone, themselves a teacher, said to me he had been told that if you can’t understand what this or that academic has written, the chances are they can’t either.
So perhaps my intellectual dyslexia wasn’t really that; perhaps I was the one talking sense. Nor should the fact that I have no qualifications in the subject be held against me as a philosopher.
It would have been difficult to get them because of the problems I had with philosophy as an academic subject and also, in the socio-economic climate created by Margaret Thatcher - in which we are still living - expensive. Besides, the mere fact that someone has qualifications in a subject does not mean that they are right on a given point, and someone without qualifications in it is wrong.
Anyway; the following is my own attempt at answering, in so far as that is possible, some of the most important philosophical questions. I do not claim I have got it all right nor can I be sure how much is original, in that no-one else has thought of it before; it may simply be more comprehensible than what other people have written. But for what it is worth, I recommend it to you.

Shepperton, Middlesex, England
March 2011 AD/CE

Berkelian Idealism and the Existence of God
Of the arguments which have been advanced in an attempt to prove the existence of God, the Idealist philosophy of Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) appears to be the least popular. One hears it used rather less frequently than the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, or the argument from design. Although phil-osophers have by no means ignored it in recent years, one gains the impression that some of them see little value in it regardless of whether or not it can be agreed with. B R Tilghman does not discuss it in his An Introduction To The Philosophy Of Religion (Blackwell 1994), and Roger Scruton's An Intelligent Person's Guide To Philosophy (Duckworth 1996) has no mention of it in the index, rather as if it is not the sort of philosophy an intelligent person ought to have any truck with. This I suspect is largely because of the fantastic, to many people, nature of the doctrine, which argues that there is no such thing as matter, physical objects being first and foremost ideas in the mind. The theory was, and is, much ridiculed; when it was first put forward in the early eighteenth century, many people thought Berkeley was mad. Doctor Johnson had a very low opinion of it. As is well known, Johnson when told of Berkeley's theory stubbed his toe on a stone and cried, "I refute it thus!", and on another occasion when Berkeley was leaving the company of Johnson and a few others the good Doctor bade him "Please, Sir, don't go; for then we shall cease to think of you, and you will cease to exist!"
I believe Johnson's comments, though amusing, are unfair and rest
on a misunderstanding of the theory, or at any rate are only app-licable to Idealism in the form believed in by Berkeley himself. It is time to look again at a much-maligned doctrine which among other things has important implications for the existence of God.
I should stress that it has not been possible for this article to cover all the objections which have been raised to Berkelianism, though it hopefully deals with the most important ones. I should also stress that the Idealism it expounds is my own adaptation of Berkeley's theory, which differs in certain respects from the original. I am not going to suggest that physical objects do not exist, for clearly they do; otherwise I would not cry out in pain when I stub my toe against a rock, be burnt by fire, or crushed to a pulp when a ten-ton weight falls on me. My concern is rather with what they are; with what they exist as. What I contend is that those things we call "matter" or "physical objects", and that quality which we call "the mind", are one and the same thing (or different aspects of it). "Pure" mind, i.e. that quality which is thought of as perceiving physical objects rather than being them, is the mind in a different form from that which constitutes the objects themselves. When the mind perceives them it is in fact perceiving part of itself, although that part is so fashioned that the mind does not see it that way. We can say that everything is the mind, or we might call everything a mind-matter complex; it makes no difference for the purposes of the argument this article is seeking to advance. Berkeley would in my opinion have done better to put forward such a view rather than the one which he did.
(His belief that God would not need to operate through such a medium as matter ("to what end should God take these roundabout methods of effecting things by instruments and machines, which no-one can deny might have been effected by the mere command of His will, without all that apparatus?"(1)) can be questioned by rational Christians as well as nonbelievers; since nothing can take place or have certain properties without some kind of reason, there must have been a method to God's creation of the Universe and the things within it, and there is no reason to suppose that that method would not have involved matter but rather some other medium).
According to Idealism everything - physical objects, people and other living creatures, and energy-states such as heat and light, properties of entities such as size and speed, as well as abstract concepts such as "love" and "evil" - must essentially be an idea in the mind. "It is evident to anyone who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses; or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly, ideas formed by help of memory and imagination - either compounding, dividing or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways." (2)
By "idea" Berkeley and his followers do not mean merely an inspirational thought of the sort which can lead to great achievements in science and culture, or the solution of particular short-term problems, which one had not had before. They mean anything which the mind can be aware of, can have a thought of. I had a concept (I intend to regard this term as synonymous with "idea") in my mind just now when I decided to depress certain keys on my word processor to type the words "he meant anything which the mind could be aware of, could have a thought of."
In Idealism there is nothing in the universe save minds and their contents. If the assertion that everything, including people, is an "idea" in a mind, seems too peculiar or grotesque, one could instead say that everything was mental in nature; any physical or non-physical phenomenon may be one of three things, an idea in the mind, in some way a part of the mind, or the mind itself, since ideas in any case can only take place in minds.
Berkeley's philosophy is often summed up by the phrase esse est percipi ("to be is to be perceived"). As it is commonly understood, this entails that unless something is perceived, and thus becomes an idea in the mind, it cannot exist. What keeps objects in being when there are no "finite spirits" (as Berkeley termed intelligent life forms such as human beings) to perceive them? Berkeley believed the ultimate perceiving agent to be God. It is not in fact always clear whether he thought God created things by perceiving them (the Perception Theory) or by having an idea of them (the Conception Theory). In any case, the mere fact that something is perceived implies that it exists separately from the agent which perceives it. The perceiving agent is not necessarily responsible for the existence of what is perceived, and this if conceded undermines any argument to the effect that everything is mental in nature. The perceiving agent merely gives significance, where it itself is concerned, to things by the act of perceiving them (this is certainly the case where finite spirits are involved). If God is to be kept at the centre of things, he must be a power which creates them by doing more than just perceive them in the way we do.
There is a way of combining the Perception and Conception theories. "Having an idea of" something can be regarded as identical with "perceiving" it; an idea of a thing must be a conscious idea, and thus it comes within the category of perception. (This is true in the case of finite spirits as well as God's. The perceiving of something by sight, sound, taste, touch or smell is inseparable from having an awareness of them; if we were not aware in our minds of what our eyes see, if images of it were not transmitted along the optic nerve to the brain, we could not be said to perceive it). If things are ideas in his mind, then God perceives them for that reason and not because he passively or actively observes them with whatever senses he possesses.
G O Urmson points out that Berkeley did not so much think the perceiving agency must be the omnipresent mind of God, but rather held that God had endowed people with the ability to perceive ideas(3). However I do actually believe that God by his perceptions is the cause of everything, including human beings, and in the course of this article will attempt to justify this belief.
It is of course clear that "ideas" can be of different kinds; for example there is a difference between the mere thought of something and the actuality of it, whether it is something we know or suspect to have an existence independent of ourselves, such as the Houses of Parliament, or something we would have to bring into existence by our own efforts, e.g. a cake or a drawing. An object can remain and idea even though its nature at one point in time is considerably different from what it is at another; a cake is an idea whether it is in its constituent parts or fully baked. Ideas can get into our heads in different ways; some things, such as the capacity to feel love or hatred, are innate, while others have to be instilled in it through experience or the efforts of our teachers and parents, the only innate thing involved in the process being our capacity, to a greater or lesser degree, to learn them.
Idealism is certainly valid in the sense that in as far as anything has any significance to anyone it must be a concept in the mind (significance is itself one). What we are never aware of does not affect us. Certainly, if there were some entity which could not be perceived by anything (including itself), it would have no significance to anything (including itself), and so might as well not exist. Of course something may be known only through its effects, e.g. we may feel ill and not know what is causing the illness until we see a doctor. But the agency which causes the illness clearly has a significance as long as the illness continues to affect me, because it has made me ill and I am not likely to be happy about that. That I do not know the cause of the illness is irrelevant. Unless I am conscious of the pain the illness causes me, unless it has become a concept in my mind, then it is not a problem however potentially disastrous it may be; it has not the significance, in this case an adverse one, that it otherwise might. However, although Idealism explains how anything can be significant to us, it does not at the same time account for the existence of things, something which is different from their significance and at the same time a necessary predicate for it. To be significant something must first exist; if it does not, it cannot enter, through the mind, into the world of significance. There are things which are potentially of importance to us because, although they are never perceived by any of our senses, they presumably continue to exist. We know this because such things sometimes are revealed to our senses, and revealed quite accidentally, after being hidden from us for a vast span of time. What is not significant, because it merely exists, can by being known become significant. Because they might not have been so revealed, yet obviously would have remained in being, we are led to conclude that existence is entirely separate from any kind of perception.
But this objection can be met by pointing out that "existence", as well as individual things which exist, is a mental concept. This is one of the most telling - to my mind, the most telling - arguments in favour of Idealism. To assert otherwise would also be to give voice to a mental concept. "But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody by to perceive them. I answer, you may so, there is no difficulty in it; but what is all this, I beseech you, more than framing in your mind certain ideas which you call books and trees, and at the same time omitting to frame the idea of any one that may perceive them?" (4)
Urmson and Pitcher both object to this, Pitcher claiming that Berkeley is confusing what is being conceived with the process of conception: "There is an ambiguity in the expression "what is conceived" that Berkeley misses. "What is conceived" can refer to what is conceived of or it can refer to what one conceives with, if I may put it so. The distinction, couched in terms of representation, is the distinction between what is represented and what represents. An idea, say an idea of X, that a person, P, has is indeed something that exists in his mind; that is, it would not exist if P were not having it. But what the idea is an idea of - that is, X - will not as a rule, and certainly not necessarily, be something that exists in his mind. Suppose for example he has an idea of Nassau Hall; the existence of Nassau Hall does not depend on P's thinking of it, and so does not in that sense exist in his mind. Nassau Hall exists whether P thinks of it or not. Suppose he has an idea of a winged horse; again, its existence does not depend on P's thinking of it, and so again does not in that sense exist in his mind. A winged horse has no existence whether P thinks of it or not." (5)
But this is not a conclusive refutation of Idealism. Obviously it is true that one can imagine things existing without the mind. For a concept to have any coherence, we must conceive of its object as something distinct from other things which are quantitatively or qualitatively different from it, and this applies to abstract philosophical principles as well as physical entities. The point should be that thoughts take place in a mind whether they are of something other than the mind or not; and because it is just a thought of something existing independently of the mind, it does not entail that things actually do exist independently of the mind. If we can conceive of a winged horse without winged horses actually existing, surely the same principle applies to things existing independently of the mind. Pitcher is confusing the having a thought of something with that something actually being possible. There are two different senses in which a thing is "conceivable"; that which merely involves us having a thought of it, and that which also involves its being possible. We would say that something being bigger on the inside than on the outside is not "conceivable", meaning that although we might have an idea of it - or I could not have typed the first few words of this sentence - that idea is of a different nature from one where something is known to be practical (and thus capable of mental visualisation to a greater or lesser degree, in a way other ideas aren't). Whether a winged horse is ultimately physiologically possible I don't know, but something being in two places at once, or bigger on the inside than on the outside, surely isn't.
The point that existence is a mental concept can be used to refute Bertrand Russell's objection to Idealism in The Problems Of Philosophy, which is essentially the same as that made by Pitcher, i.e. that Berkeley confuses an act of apprehension with the object apprehended(6). If there is an object then there must be a quality, not itself an object, called existence, on which the real object is dependent, and if that is an idea in the mind then the object must be too. We do not need to refer to the object, whether it is an idea or real in its own right and has merely been confused with the idea of it, to make our point.
The Idealist theory is self-justifying, its truth self-evident. It is difficult to refute because the very attempt to do so proves it. At the very best, Pitcher and Urmson's objections to it present us with a tautology, which squeezes out any possibility that the truth of Idealism can be disproven as much as it does the likelihood of its being validated.
Unless we bring in the point that existence is itself a mental concept, we in espousing Idealism are not really saying anything which is different from Kant's assertion that we can never know things in themselves because we cannot be sure the sense-data we receive from them are not merely vastly complex illusions (which we are unable for sure to know are real because of the limitations to our minds and understanding, which one day might be removed, and might not apply to any intelligent beings existing on other planets). When we agree with Kant we are merely saying that the "thing-in-itself" cannot be perceived by us, not that it does not have an existence which is separate from the mind of any divine or human agency. If existence itself is in a mental idea, then the properties of things which exist will be too; therefore anything which a thing can ever be is in the mind, and we should not be looking for something which is independent of the sense-data we receive and which constitutes the thing's real nature.
If this argument is not deemed sufficient to prove the essentially mental native of things, there is another which could be put forward. It would seem that in the view of Idealism's opponents, there is a mental world in which things are concepts in the mind, and this have some kind of significance, and also a realm distinct from that in the mind in which objects exist whether or not the mind perceives them. These two worlds are entirely separate; one does not depend on the other for its existence. Such a view of things can be questioned.
It is evident that the Universe, whatever our views as to its precise nature and whether or not it can be explained in terms of a creative intelligence, must operate within the parameters imposed by the laws of logic. One of those laws has to be that nothing in it can exist or occur without a reason. It is therefore impossible for any number of things, or entities, greater than one to come into existence independently of each other; to suggest that they could would be the same as suggesting that things could come into existence entirely spontaneously, without a cause. Therefore mind, matter and energy, the fundamental elements into which everything is divided, must be the same thing, or different but nonetheless inseparably connected aspects of it. We are justified in regarding both the mind and the body as entities. By the term "entity" or "thing" I mean anything which exists in some form or another, has some kind of reality. Both physical objects and the mind clearly exist, the former because we daily observe the effects of their interaction with the mind and each other and the latter because there must be something which gives objects significance through perception, even if it does not explain their initial existence, and that something must be the mind because if sentience is suspended by sleep we do not perceive things, or at any rate do not perceive them in the same way as we do when awake (I am referring of course to dreams). In order to have any kind of effect on anything, something must obviously first exist. What causes the effect could of course be a property of a thing rather than a thing itself; a block of concrete exists but that alone does not give it the ability to fly. But properties must be properties of an existing thing, so no difference is made to what I am trying to say. I have already made clear that things can have no significance unless they are mentally apprehended. We also, while permanently retaining in our heads the idea of a particular thing once we have become acquainted with it, will not be able to estimate its exact location of nature at any given time unless we are at that time perceiving it, and thus having an idea of it in our minds.
If nothing can happen or exist which contravenes logic, logic must from the start determine what form they take and whether they can even exist. It must in effect be identifiable with them. Since logic is not itself a physical entity - it has to do with properties of things, rather than things itself - but an abstract concept, it must be in the mind. This therefore proves, for me at any rate, that the mind is everything.
We should also remember that the mental world and the material world clearly interact; for example, our minds inhabit our bodies and can motivate them, through the nervous system, to perform various functions. That objects move, when perceived, from the realm in which they merely exist into the realm in which they are seen to exist, and become articles of apprehension, is itself an example of mind/matter interaction. In order to interact two qualities must have something in common with each other, the ground on which the interaction takes place; and not only that, they must have something fundamentally in common. Therefore they must in a sense be the same thing.
Some may still say, you have no ground for the conclusions you reach in this chapter; you are simply multiplying suggested reasons for everything being mental without checking the validity of each. It is wrong both to think that things can only exist mentally and to think the mind is an entity. You cannot make a correct proposition out of two false ones. But mind is an actual entity (and therefore must be part with matter of the same thing, since no entity can come into existence entirely spontaneously and separately from anything else) and not something which exists only in the form of an abstract truth, like time. Whereas no-one has ever produced some time in a laboratory and given it to another person saying “here’s some time”, we know mind must exist because otherwise, what would we think with! So even if the argument that mind and matter are one because whatever isn’t mental would have no effect upon anything doesn’t hold water, the other argument (mine) for the Berkelian theory does.

Are we right to derive, from the essentially mental nature of things, the conclusion that it is the mind of God which keeps everything in being? I have, I trust, shown that everything is mental. Now if a thing must be an idea in the mind, it cannot in
many cases be an idea in our minds because we usually observe what we did not create, often independently of our will. If we go into a room and see a table, we see it because it is there and not because we particularly wanted to visually apprehend it. Nor did we necessarily have any idea of its previous existence before we saw it for the first time. In our case, we only observe things, and thus make them significant to ourselves. The actual creation,
by being perceived in the mind, of the things was due to some other agency, which I believe to have been God.
It would seem to be an unassailably logical inference that if everything is an idea in the mind, and esse est percipi, then for objects to exist in places where there are no intelligent beings present to observe them - and there are and have been a vast number of such places all over the Earth's surface, as well as, evidently, in other parts of what we know to be a vast universe - there must be a perceiving intelligence that is non-human in nature, and which in perceiving them gives them their being. At the same time we know that our appearance on the scene, as functional and sentient organisms, post-dates that of the objects we perceive, and therefore that we cannot have created them.
Such a being would have to perceive the human intelligences which exist, since those intelligences are known not to have created themselves, and they could not maintain themselves in being by self-perception once created. A finite creature such as a human can't perceive all of its body at any one time (so a sentient life form cannot maintain its physical self in being by perceiving itself with its own mind; only if it were pure mind, without the properties of a physical body such as extension, could it do so). Nor could it see through its own body to perceive its internal organs.
If things are ultimately ideas in the mind then the Universe, which we know to be a very big place, if not endless, is to exist there must therefore be, in conjunction with it, a perceiving consciousness of the same size as itself. Why, some have asked, should it be the same creative intelligence which perceives things, and so enables them to exist, all the time? Pitcher Maintains that "If we consider only the bare existence of the sensible world, then, assuming we accept Berkeley's argument up to this point, we have as much right to infer that there are two minds that cause ideas of sense, or that there are 16, or even that there is one for each different sensible object, as we have to infer that there is one infinite mind, namely God's, causing our ideas of sense." (7)
Perhaps, for example, the universe is being kept in existence by being perceived by a race of aliens, or an alliance of several alien races (their psychology would have to be very different from that of most humans, who believe either that the universe will exist regardless of whether anybody thinks of it or, if they are Idealists, that some agency such as God will sustain it in being through his own thoughts, so that they don't have to make the effort). But the universe is so big that these aliens would have their work cut out trying to do the job. And why should we suppose they are necessarily that altruistic anyway? Why should they, assuming that enough of them understand Berkeley's theories and so appreciate the need to ensure that a sufficient number of them are
kept employed maintaining the universe in being through perception, strive to keep the whole in existence rather than just that part of it which they inhabit?
If they can keep the universe in being by perceiving it, our alien race or races must collectively be so numerous that the molecules which make up their bodies, whether they consist of organic materials or perhaps silicon or some form of energy, would occupy all the available space in the cosmos, leaving no room for anything else. Granted, we can only guess at the precise details of alien psychology and physiology, but nonetheless if our hypothetical aliens can maintain the universe in this way both mentally and physically they must surely constitute the equivalent of God; and the equivalent of God, of course, would be God.
Perhaps the Universe is being kept in being by a relatively small number of deities, rather than an improbably vast number of finite beings; but it is rather too much of a coincidence if a relatively small number of deities - which presumably did not all originate from the same source, or there would be no value in our presenting them as independent and unconnected - should chance to have the same power of creating through perception, and retain it over a period of time. If the deities derived their power from just one of their number then that deity would be God and could still be said to be responsible for everything. And again, it's highly fortunate that they're all happy to work in conjunction.
It has been objected that Idealism rests on the unwarranted assumption that God's mind is like our minds. I would say we do not need to assume God's mind to be exactly like our minds, or even remotely like them except in one or two very fundamental respects. All we need to be convinced of is that it is a mind and that it has concepts (without the latter property no mind, ours or God's, would be of the slightest use, as minds, either to themselves or to anything or anyone else). In fact we are accepting that God's mind is not like our minds, because God actually creates things while we only give significance to them, relative to ourselves, by perceiving them.
It is true that in saying that God perceives things at all, and by so doing gives them significance at least, we are extrapolating from our own experience. But if my reasoning is correct (you are of course free to believe that it is not), in other words if it really is true that things must be ideas in the mind to exist, then it will apply where God is concerned as much as it will anywhere else, just as 2 + 2 must equal 4 whether there is a God or not and regardless of what he is or does. A comparison can be drawn between the inference from Idealism that God through his thoughts is the ultimate source of all things and scientific theories about the nature of life on other planets. It might be thought we can have absolutely nothing to say about what extra-terrestrial beings are like, since they are wholly outside our experience, but if our conclusions about the nature of biology, chemistry and physics are correct we are entirely justified in subjecting aliens to those considerations. We can't say for sure whether the conditions that make life, and particularly intelligent life, prevail on other planets as they do on Earth, but life does depend on them. Even to say that such life, because of what we know about the nature of the observable universe, must if it exists be entirely different from "life as we know it" is a bold extrapolation from our own observations, so the argument holds. Philosophical reasoning is different from scientific reasoning, but if that in itself means that philosophy is invalid, we would not be philosophers at all.
It has been asked by what kind of perceptions of them does God keep things in being; are they (the perceptions) tactile, visual, or something else entirely? But if everything including the concept of "tactile" or "visual" is a concept in the mind, then the distinction is academic - he may be said to sustain everything through mental perception, since "touch" and "taste" are ideas in his mind.
Whilst it may be possible to conceive of inanimate objects as being somehow parts of God, it may be objected that the minds of individual human beings, at any rate, have a self-consciousness which is different from that of all other humans, and also that God's self-consciousness is very different from ours. Everything must be God because logically everything must come from the same source, as I have already argued. How is it then that things can have their own properties and, in the case of intelligent life forms, their own sense of identity and consciousness?
If everything must come from one source, God, then it can only be the arrangement, the combination of the particles which make up God, and thus everything, which gives things their distinctive identities and characters. That is how it is possible for everything to be God and yet for people to have their own sense of identity and consciousness which is separate from that which God has, as well as have physical properties which are different from his. Everything is still God in one sense, but in another it is not, in the same way that a vase is still a vase even when it is just a random collection of molecules; the molecules which make it up are merely arranged differently. They are still the same molecules.
In any case, whether one accepts this argument or not, we would still be talking about minds, whether they belong to humans, intelligent insects on another planet, or a universal creative intelligence, and whether they have a self-consciousness or not, just as we would be talking about dogs whether the subject of the conversation was chihuahuas, collies, dachshunds or poodles, dogs of a pure breed or mongrels. Self-consciousness merely happens to be one of the features which minds, in different ways, possess. And "self-consciousness", of course, is itself an idea in the mind. It is another aspect of certain parts of the mind that they can function independently of the main mind to a certain extent, both physically and mentally.
If the mind of God is responsible for things existing at all, then it must follow that it is also responsible for all their other properties; for without the ability to exist in the first place, it is impossible for something to have any sort of property whatsoever. If the existence of objects and living entities, and hence the way they behave, depends upon that of a perceiving mind, and yet these objects and living entities have diverse and complex qualities, which in the case of beings such as ourselves include the possession of a self-consciousness which is different from that of the main Mind, the implication is that these properties of the Universe and the things in it, and the laws by which the Universe functions, which govern the behaviour of objects and forms of energy are aspects of that mind's operation. I am here using a form of logical inferencing. If A is the cause of B, and B has the property C, then A is also the cause of C; for that which creates things, and that which gives them their properties, must be the same agency, unless one or the other of them came about with implausible spontaneity.
There is a way of demonstrating this which appears scientific. I am not a scientist and do not know what a real scientist would say about the following, but feel the point is worth making. Thought, which implies consciousness, the essence of mind, is composed of electrical impulses. Matter and energy are composed of atoms, or the particles which make up atoms, which are themselves electrically-charged. Therefore mind, and the other entities which make up the universe, are in a sense all the same thing.
Urmson points out a further objection to Idealism: "It is a commonplace of theology that God is eternal and unchanging. The notion of an unchanging person may be difficult, but for the present all we need to understand by it is that God does not in time come to have ideas or thoughts which he did not have previously. It is another commonplace of theology that God created the inanimate - the earth, the sea and the heavenly bodies - before he created on earth any living creatures. But if the existence of physical bodies consists in their being objects in the mind of God, then physical objects have existed from all eternity and were not created at all; and the existence of physical objects can also not consist in their being actually ideas of finite spirits, since they were created before finite spirits. So it would seem that if we accept the doctrine of Creation, as Berkeley certainly did, the permanent existence of physical bodies cannot consist in their being actual objects of thought or perception either by an infinite or by finite spirits." (8)
Berkeley did not actually believe that God created things by thinking about them, so what he said in reply to this objection was that God merely ordained that ideas of the physical should be available to finite spirits. But if we accept that an idea is still an idea whatever type of idea it is, whether it is just the thought of a cat or a physical animal, the ingredients which go to make up a cake or the cake itself, no difference is made to God's
ability to create things (or rather to arrange them into different forms, since they already existed as subatomic particles, it being impossible to create matter out of nothing).
The Idealist philosophy can be used to help show how God can have the characteristics he is traditionally credited with:
(1) His indivisibility. In that its not existing or being the cause of everything other than itself, if such were the case, would itself be a concept in a mind, the universal mind is self-creating. Idealism is, as I see it, the only doctrine which explains how a creative intelligence can be self-begotten, and is thus important.
By having a concept of himself not existing, God creates his own existence. We are talking about the same mind having both concepts; that of not existing and that of existing (the two being mutually necessary to one another). Only a single mind is required for this process to take place, for an individual mind clearly has a concept of itself not existing and therefore, concurrently, a concept of itself existing. There is no need for all the multiple deities in which some religions believe.
(2) His omnipresence. If space is an idea in God's mind, if God is identical with space and particular locations within it, then he will be omnipresent.
(3) His omnipotence. If everything is a concept in God's mind, if ideas in his mind are the equivalent of physical occurrences, then all he has to do is think different thoughts to bring about changes in the nature of individual entities or the universe at large. He is of course constrained by the laws of logic; but since logic is an idea in the mind as well as a factor determining physical properties, God's mind is limited by its own nature, and not by any outside force.
(4) His omniscience. If everything is a concept in God's mind, he will be aware of everything. If everything that can be is ultim-ately a concept in God's mind, is God in a sense, then God is not
dependent on any external factor, such as the quality of a physical brain, for the extent of his knowledge. He is as omniscient as anything ever can be. The Universe would appear to be a complex affair and to function in a vastly sophisticated way; in other words is composed of a vast amount of facts. If at the same time that complexity is a conscious mental thing, because everything is an idea in the mind, then God will be a mind which knows a vast amount of facts.
Idealism can also provide an answer to the perplexing question of why God created the Universe when he did. If the Universe was created at a finite time, and was the work of a creative intelligence, what was that intelligence doing before the act of Creation and what reason would he have had to create the Universe at one particular time rather than another? It could be, of course, that the Universe has always been around; but this, as scientists like Stephen Hawking tend to see it, makes God redundant. "The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning or end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a Creator?" (9)
I expect most Christian philosophers or theologians would answer such objections by saying that God, by his nature, cannot be created or destroyed; therefore he has always been there. If he does not exist at any particular time, then he does not perform actions at any particular time. This, however, does not explain why it is that God can always have existed. Idealism, I believe, does.
God is a mind which cannot be destroyed (for "destruction" has to be a concept in an existing mind). He has existed at all times and will always exist. The concept of him not having always existed, or not existing at the present time, or ceasing to exist at some point in the future, are all concepts in an existing mind. The mind therefore exists in all directions both temporally and spatially. Whether or not it is correct to say, as some do, that God stands entirely outside time, it is certainly true that he is outside time as we know it, that he exists within a timeframe radically different from ours. Now if God exists in this kind of timeframe, then everything he does must be done within it, action being something dependent on the existence of things which act. The Creation therefore was not something which God did at any particular moment, after having sat twiddling his thumbs for an infinite period before suddenly, and for no apparent reason, deciding to create a universe. It was simply something that he did.
If accepted, the Idealist philosophy and its implications can be used to meet Kant's objection that if time had no beginning there would be an infinite period of time before each event, for it would be true neither that the universe had a beginning in the sense of a time when it did not exist being followed by a time when it did, nor that it had always been going on. Mutability, and thus the division of time into states when a particular event is occurring and states when it has ceased occurring or has not yet occurred, is a characteristic of the created universe and not its creator. If the distinction is borne in mind there is no absurd contradiction of the kind that Kant believed would be involved.
If God, because he did not exist at any particular time, did not create the universe at that time but simply did it, then it would look to beings like ourselves, who exist in a very different timeframe (because we as ourselves are born and later die, are mutable, as is everything around us) either as if it had been created at a single point in time (the Big Bang theory) or as if it had always been there (the Steady-State theory), depending on the current state of scientific knowledge and the way influential scientists' minds worked.
Our scientific researches, of course, suggest to us that the planet Earth, if not the universe, came into being at a particular point in time, and thus did not exist prior to that time. This was so even before Man, whose perception of time is different from God's, came on the scene. But there are clear reasons why it is so. For the purposes of what I am about to say one can see "Creation" as the fashioning either of the Universe itself or, if one thinks of the Universe, regardless of whether it should be identified with God, as necessarily having (perhaps by definition) no temporal boundary, of the finite entities within it. Where the finite entities are concerned the Creation was not of the subatomic particles out of which they are ultimately constructed, which cannot physically be created or destroyed and must therefore exist at all times, but rather amounted to the arrangement of those entities into the combinations which give them their character either as individuals or a species.
Although the act of creating the Universe was not, from God's point of view, something that he was doing at a particular time and had not done before that time, the nature of what was created - the mere fact that it was created, rather than Creator - meant that it would come into being from a state of chaos, a jumbled mass of subatomic particles, the arrangement of which could be altered so as to produce changes in its form and behaviour, and possibly revert to chaos at a later stage if God for some reason desired it. While God himself has no boundary either in space or in time, everything else has to be created, and may one day be destroyed, and while it exists it is malleable within the limits imposed by logic, whereas the essential nature of God is such that he himself does not change. So once the Universe was created, the things in it altered, developed; entities came into existence, ceased to exist, or were recreated. Therefore, when human scientists began to analyse the universe in order to understand its past and its origins, they found change; although the universe itself might always have been there, things within it had not constantly existed or behaved in the same way. For example the Earth had formed out of a cloud of hot gases and fragments of rock, and the living organisms it supported evolved from very simple units which gradually became more complex. The changes were not always in the form of strict linear progressions from a chaotic to an ordered, or a simple to a complex, state of affairs but they were changes nonetheless.
So there one has it. It may seem lazy to answer every question about the origin of this or that by claiming it is a concept in the mind, and I suspect this is one reason why opponents of Idealism dislike the theory; but if the theory is basically sound, to do so is quite correct, so it has to be judged on its merits. And to believe everything to be an idea in the mind does not make the universe a less interesting place than we would prefer; as I argued above, the fascinating complexity of the world around us, and the way in which it behaves, is as much an aspect of the mind as the mere existence of that world.

(1) George Berkeley, The Principles Of Human Knowledge, 61
(2) Op. Cit 1
(3) J O Urmson, Berkeley, OUP 1982, p37-40
(4) POHK 23
(5) George Pitcher, Berkeley, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977, p112-15
(6) Bertrand Russell, The Problems Of Philosophy, p19-24
(7) Pitcher, p133
(8) Urmson, p43-4
(9) Hawking, A Brief History Of Time, p140-41. The question of whether God and/or the Universe are spatially infinite is beyond the scope of this chapter.

The Probability of Free Will
"{Considering} the implications of post-Darwinian research into evolution and genetics for our understanding of ourselves...does the scientific study of human nature imply that we are incapable of free will or genuine morality?"
(Question posed by prospective for an Open University course on philosophy, 1998)

It has often been asked whether we truly possess freedom of thought and action or are influenced in our behaviour solely by the positions that certain electrons happen to occupy in our brains at certain times. Or could our decisions be determined by some kind of demon (which would obviously, as part of the process, involve we did not know they were being determined)?
The question is a much debated and indeed extremely vital one. Its importance is twofold: (1) the idea that we might not possess free will is very depressing, since it means we don’t have any power to control our own destiny. We would like if possible to be convinced that was not the case. As long as we could think we had free will we might be happy enough, but it would be far more comforting if we knew we really did have it. (2) If we do not have free will, we cannot be blamed for actions that have conventionally been considered immoral, and there would be important consequences for the monotheistic religions, since if we
cannot make a free response to what is held to be the will of God or of Allah then the whole system of salvation, which depends on such a response, is wrecked.
Before we go any further we ought to make clear to what extent, when we speak of freedom of will, we are speaking of freedom of thought as opposed to freedom to act. It is the thought that counts for the purpose of deciding whether the will is free (people can after all perform physical functions independently of their will, when they are acting instinctively or are under duress). We can of course think what we like but for one reason or other be unable to do what we like, because of physical incapacity
(resulting from either accident or design, the latter usually being someone else’s; there may also be said to be a sub-category where we are constrained by legal or social sanctions, but would be physically capable of breaking those laws if our conscience decided we should, such a change of mind being the result of free will). The ability to physically act is important in so far as there would be little point in having free will unless we could put it into practice, and because the inability to do so might affect us psychologically in a number of ways. But we cannot act freely if we do not think freely, for the action is the result of the intention unless of course the will is not free. Suppose someone consciously makes a decision not to do something, yet in fact they could not, for one reason or another, have done it anyway (the question of whether they subsequently discover this to be the case is irrelevant). Although they may not have been physically able to do it it can still be true that they would have done it, as opposed to any other action, if they could have. Our will is still free, in this contingency, precisely because we did not know we could not have done as we wished. If we had known, our will couldn’t have been said to be free because it is more or less impossible - if we are in a normal frame of mind and not motivated by madness, or rage or panic (when we may act from sheer frustration and desperation, which can bypass rational thinking), or are seeking attention by doing what will only cause us damage - to intend to do something we know we can’t. We can only dream wistfully of what would happen if it was possible, something that is qualitatively different from the sort of state of mind we have been talking about.
As stated above there are some situations, at least, where our wills are clearly unfree. We might perform a particular action purely from necessity; the agency impelling us to do it could be some natural phenomenon, such as our inbuilt instincts, or another person, who threatens us with some awful punishment if we don't. It might sometimes be that we would perform the act in question in any case, because it happened to coincide with our own proclivities, but that is immaterial; the point is that we would have to do it whether we wanted to or not. The real issue is whether, when the reason for our behaviour lies with ourselves, it is a voluntary personal action or something which our nature makes inevitable.
There are probably blind socio-economic, biological and other forces which are responsible for the behaviour of large populations and of particular interest groups, and which determine the principal trends of human history such as technological progress and political change. They still leave individuals with a measure of free will, and not only in their personal lives - the actions of individual statesmen may well have influenced the timing of the big events and the forms they took, though they would have taken place whatever happened. However individuals also perform actions which seem on the face of it to be free but in fact are not. When I am offered a present I have always wanted, at Christmas, on my birthday or indeed any other occasion, when I am given an opportunity to do something I really like, such as have an exotic holiday overseas, I naturally take it and in this situation my personal inclinations, stemming I suppose from genetics, mean I am not likely to act otherwise. Here, my will isn’t really free. In this case however that doesn’t matter because of the pleasant nature of the situation. Though I don’t know how this problem is taken care of in, say, Heaven (I only know it is, somehow, if you don’t mind me putting my Christian hat on here), it would I believe be a terrible thing if we were perpetually happy but never had the opportunity to practise free will because we always knew what to do or had it done for us. The image, one of content zombies, is really rather scary. Fortunately, we know that in this life plenty of opportunities will arise where, for better or for worse, we are left to decide between two or more courses of action the relative benefits of which may not be easy to assess. There may also be situations where there is uncertainty about which course to take but none of the outcomes would actually be harmful.
In the whole question of whether we have free will, the ultimate yardstick must be our own personal experience. If science conflicts with it then we have to say that science is wrong (as we would if scientists told us time travel was impossible, only for us later to find ourselves somehow transported back to the Middle Ages). My view is that that experience suggests we do in fact have free will, although, as hinted above, I don’t think we possess it to quite as great an extent as we tend to believe is the case.
In what way exactly is our freedom demonstrated? We might begin the task of answering this question by considering whether the fact that we can have a concept of free will - something without which we would not be able to discuss the subject - proves we possess the real thing.
Surely, to have a concept of something that something must actually be experienced by us on a regular basis. The fact that we have a concept of a God is not seen as proof that He exists; and indeed if it did constitute such proof, all but the most stupid would believe in Him, and it is not the case that they do. It is only natural that we should ask how the world came to be; and, having seen other people make things, would have conceived the idea of a God who made things, the world included. So perhaps, although there may be an actual God, His existence is not necessary for the purpose of having a concept of him. In the case of familiar things such as dogs, say, whose existence is obviously proven, the concept is clearly due to our having encountered its object in real life, but it is nonetheless possible we could imagine a dog if dogs didn’t exist, or existed on planets we knew nothing about, even though it would be pure coincidence if our picture of one happened to match what the dogs which actually do exist are like. In extremis, we can as argued elsewhere have a concept of a centaur without this proving centaurs are real. Since I don’t actually know for sure whether a centaur is biologically possible (though I suspect it isn’t) a better example might be something existing in two places at once or being bigger on the inside than the outside. I can clearly have a concept of the same object existing in two places at once, or I wouldn’t have been able to write about it, but it not only doesn’t necessarily happen, it couldn’t happen. We have to prove that the case of free will is different from that of God, in that actual experience of the thing which is the object of the concept is required for the concept to be possible. Though it may be that our concept of God is due to His actually existing, the knowledge of that existence being perhaps subconscious, it is not impossible, or has not been proven to be impossible, that there is some other reason for it. But the thing of which we have a concept could be a state of mind or mental function as much as an object, person or place; and it is more likely to be real if it is in one of the first two categories rather than the others, since mental capabilities are what exist within our selves, our conscious selves, and are thus known to exist in us, as opposed to external agencies whose reality has to be verified by observation that must often be of an empirical nature. It is significant also that we don't have the concept of free will until after we reach the age where we start to make what are called, rightly or wrongly, free decisions. It is because we daily experience situations, however trivial or important, where we are faced with a choice as to whether we should do X or Y, that the concept arises. Intellectual analysis – a form of empiricism – points to the existence of something more than just an idea in the mind.
I am therefore inclined to say that our having the ability to conceive of free will proves that we do possess it. We do not have free will all the time, but we only need to have it in certain situations to be able to conceive of it. The precise circumstances, or the time, or the frequency of our seeing a cat, or picture of one, do not matter for the purpose of developing a concept of a cat in our minds, and in fact if we saw a cat only once the uniqueness of that event would if anything make it more likely to be remembered. That cats are in fact very common, and as a result are particularly in our consciousness, makes no difference.
You only have to believe that something exists in order to have a mental concept of it - in this case at least believing serves the same purpose as knowing - but it helps that in the case of free will it actually does exist. The suggestion that the concept of free will proved our possession of it would not be invalidated by the occurrence of situations where our will might clearly be constrained by another person or our external environment, because there would be circumstances where those constraints did not apply.
Proof may also lie in the qualitative difference between the feelings we experience after taking a decision on a moral or practical matter in cases where our wills seem, at least, to be free, and those we have where it is universally accepted they are not. If the decision appears from its consequences to have been wrong, we feel regret - remorse, if it has had unpleasant effects on other people - and if it is justified by those consequences may often experience satisfaction at having acted, and acted willingly, for the best. Where our wills are clearly unfree either we are simply unmoved or, if the consequences of our actions are unfortunate for anyone, we may not although we feel distress have any sense of personal guilt, unless we are just being irrational. Now this qualitative difference must signify something. But if there is also, as made clear below, a qualitative difference between purely instinctive, and non-instinctive but nonetheless predetermined behaviour, neither of which constitute true free will, this whole point appears to lose its value. The fact that we feel guilt/satisfaction at having done bad/good things might seem to be an argument for our having done them freely. But could we simply be being made to feel guilty/glad by that mischievous demon which is trying to deceive us into thinking we have free will when actually we don't? One reason for answering "no" is that the action and the emotions which follow it would seem to be directly causally related (there appears to be no interval between the action and the feeling). But if the demon can fake both the freeness of a decision and the reaction to its consequences, he can do so whether there has to be an interval between the two or not.
The feeling of remorse or exultation inevitably will follow the action if we are under the impression that we do have free will; but that impression could still be wrong, even if there is no firm evidence that it is. And in a sense we certainly are conditioned to feel remorse/exultation after performing certain kinds of action; we know that from experience. The demon could be programming us with both the action and our mental response. (Holding the belief that one must have personal experience of something to also have a concept of it would, it should be pointed out, be of no help to us here since if the experience were an illusion so also would be the concept it gave rise to).
Ultimately the question of our free will is irresoluble when approached from this angle. But there is a way it can be resolved. Let's suppose that when we think "I will do A as against B," some external agency is in fact causing us to have that thought. Would we be aware that it was determining our decisions (and thus aware if it was not)? I suggest we would. If our thoughts (a desire to perform any given action falling into the category of a thought) are determined by some other power, they are effectively not our own thoughts. Thus we would not have any concept of our own personal identity (which involves us being aware that I did this, that I wanted to do that). And yet we do. It might only be necessary for us to have free will some of the time for us to have this concept of personal identity. We also, of course, act purely from instinct on occasions, but we do not do so always. In fact our sense of identity is a constant thing, which implies there is something constantly present to give rise to it. Although our demon could still be faking the sense of self-consciousness along with everything else, it is not clear precisely how he/she/it might be doing so, whereas the existence in itself of that self-consciousness at least provides a plausible and coherent reason for believing in free will even if you don’t think it’s sufficient. Nor is it clear why the demon would only seek to determine actions taken on moral grounds. Since harm often results from the actions (in whatever situation) it causes, we must assume it is either perverse or simply amoral. If it is perverse, it could cause trouble just as easily by influencing decisions on practical matters – a design flaw overlooked, or built in because someone mistakenly thought it wasn’t one, in an aircraft can cause that aircraft to crash and kill people. Although influencing ethical decisions which turn out to have been wrong could be particularly important to it because of the guilt the person “responsible” would feel, why should it limit its scope of operations? But if it is amoral, it would have as little need to restrict its modus operandi in this way; it’d simply do whatever appealed to it. So maybe it doesn’t confine itself to moral matters anyway.
It isn’t clear why the demon would want to interfere in any case. That doesn’t matter if we’re simply trying to establish whether it does interfere. But among the emotions that some of us, at any rate, experience from time to time is love, and whatever causes us to feel it we know from its nature that love is not something contrived but exists for its own sake, anything else going against its essential nature (even if that nature is seen in terms of electrochemical reactions within the brain, as indeed it must be on one level, the effect of those reactions remains the same). Those who do have love know that others ought to, and for others’ own benefit rather than out of a wish to be sanctimonious. Before materialist philosophers deny this view of things we should ask them how their wives would feel if told that they did not experience towards them “love” but merely a particular alignment of electrons within the brain which resulted in an arrangement that was socially convenient. Our materialist philosopher may not actually be married, but the argument is unaffected by substituting other people in general for a wife, whatever he might think. The very poverty of spirit he suffers, and which is communicated to society via those who think the same way he does, is proof that love is what it is. Its importance is demonstrated by what happens when it’s not there. It’s not something that exists as a necessary counterweight to hate or indifference, like a piece in some cosmic chess game. It simply creates its opposite, evil, as a light inevitably casts a shadow and would be happier if evil didn’t exist at all (the idea of doing evil might be necessary in order to do what was genuinely good, but that is a different thing from being perverse enough to perform an evil action). These things remain true irrespective of philosophical arguments in favour of the existence of God, something they might be used to strengthen.
Love is something which enriches the human condition and does so for its, and the human condition’s, own sake. Therefore our “demon”, if it is the one determining our thoughts and feelings, must be benevolent (implying that it allows bad thoughts and thus bad actions for some ultimately good reason or because the thoughts at least are simply unavoidable). And if it was benevolent it would want to give us free will since with many actions the pleasure they cause consists precisely in the satisfaction, not necessarily egotistical, of the doer at having done the right thing – the moral, mental and spiritual peace that results – while the recipient of an act of kindness is moved by it in ways they never consider undesirable.
Finally, there is still a qualitative difference between non-instinctive but still determined behaviour (let us call it Category A), and behaviour resulting from situations where genetic and similar factors are seen as definitely not applying (Category B) just as there is between the latter and behaviour and actions which are obviously unavoidable (Category C). In Category A we assume that we did this or that thing out of kindness (or malice, if we are evilly disposed) when in fact we may have been socially or biologically conditioned to do it anyway. In Category B we don’t so much assume as feel we know we did it for good or bad reasons, and either take a pride in it or regret it, as the case may be (depending on our moral standards). There seems an element of choice which renders our sense of guilt or of satisfaction more acute than if, say, intolerable provocation, the herd instinct or group madness made us do something harmful – even where we afterwards rue our actions. And again, the qualitative difference has to be significant. If this has any effect at all on the question it can only be to knock another nail in the demon’s coffin - if he really is a demon. I suppose it will never be entirely possible to discount his existence, but he comes increasingly to look like something introduced into the argument for argument’s sake.

For the purpose of explaining it, human behaviour can be divided into three categories; only in the third can it be said that we enjoy true freedom.
(1) Behaviour which is instinctive, whether it consists in an autonomous reaction to something which might not have been expected or a response to fundamental, inbuilt compulsions such as those to find food or a sexual partner. In such cases we cannot assume free will.
(2) Cases where no actual decision is made to behave in a certain way, in the sense of it not being immediately apparent what course of action is the correct one (only where there is this uncertainty can there properly be a "decision"), regardless of whether or not an assessment of various possible courses is required before the action can be performed. Here again, I do not think free will applies. It is inevitable, in these cases, that we should do what we do, either because the action is clearly essential or because there is simply no reason why we should behave otherwise. So it could be argued that our behaviour is being determined by certain facts pertaining to our mental/physical make-up, either as individuals or collectively, and our external environment, and thus is not really free. If I go to work in the morning it is not because I choose to; my being rational, and thus aware of where my best interests lie, will ensure that I do so because I do not want to lose my job through absenteeism. It is only likely that I should not go to work if exceptional and unforeseen circumstances intervened, and since those circumstances would clearly justify what would normally be unacceptable my choice to not go to work would not then be a choice. Once a certain set of circumstances has come about, in this case my securing the job, my finding out the location of my place of work, and my having the required means of transport, I am bound to act in a certain way, even if some or all of the circumstances arose themselves out of actions which were free (I may have freely chosen to take the job I am now in, although commonsense subsequently dictated that I remained in it). Nor would the fact that a decision might take a while to make, and the process of deciding be a complex one, lead us to think it was necessarily free. Once the various factors which had an influence on the matter had been considered, once all the knowledge had been assimilated, it might be quite clear what should be done, as long as we were thinking carefully and rationally. The decision-making would be an entirely mechanical process, not involving or indeed requiring the free exercise of the will. It would merely take a while. We might not know that there was no other option until we had considered all the others, but there would still be no other option.
(3) Cases where there is no obvious reason, in the last resort, why we should choose one course of action as against another. It is here that free will really prevails. If there is no apparent reason why a sane person should in a certain situation choose one form of action over any other(s) - in other words, no determining factor in their decision - but a decision is nonetheless made, logic suggests the decision can only have been a free one. The outcome of course might be that one was unable to make up one's mind, but this isn't always what happens. What if the matter was a very important one on which one had to make up one's mind? It is possible that the difficulty of making the decision would delay it until the last possible moment, so that when it was made it would be in a hurried and panicky fashion. To be a true choice, a decision must be reached through rational thinking, which it cannot be in such circumstances. But we should not allow such situations to happen, since to do so is unwise if the matter is important, and sometimes at least we don’t. Even if we did delay and thus impose stress on ourselves we might try, at least, to keep calm and come to a proper decision; the process would therefore involve a degree at least of rationality.
It is time to consider again the view that our decisions are determined simply by the positions, or nature, of the electrons in our brains, as opposed to our own volition. This is true to some extent. Unless electrons are located somewhere within a person's brain it would not be accurate to say that they had free will, if thought is analogous to electrical impulses as current scientific thinking more or less holds (since the translation of thought into action involves the transmission of an electrical impulse to the part of the body it is necessary to move, the thought and the electrical impulse must be to some extent the same kind of thing as without such common ground interaction between them would not be possible).
But it still seems to me that if, although we may have knowledge of factors which assist in the making of decisions, those factors are not conclusive arguments for taking one course of action rather than another then we must make decisions freely, and that therefore the behaviour and nature of electrons cannot in every case determine our actions. It might be more accurate to say that our decisions consist in the positions and nature of the electrons. That does not mean they are determined by them. They are able to move themselves, or be moved voluntarily by something else that exists within our brains. We have a paradox here; it could be said that it is determined that our will be free. But we don't mind that because we would rather it was free!
But wouldn't someone not knowing what decision they should take because of the (necessarily) incomplete state of their knowledge produce random actions, due entirely to chance, rather than ones that stem from free will?(1) Not necessarily. We might make a decision on impulse (indeed might as well if there seemed no clear pointer to what we should do), but we could still choose not to. Or we could make an arbitrary decision – not quite the same thing, as the state of mind experienced here is different, perhaps cooler and calmer, from when an action is impulsive, though equally justified in the circumstances. But an arbitary decision is still a decision. And there is a third course which might be taken as a result of the uncertainty, which is to dither and not make any decision at all; since we may take ourselves in hand and decide not to do that on the grounds that some decision may have to be made because it would be better than none at all, free will is again preserved.
If a decision is not determined and cannot, for the reason given above, be due to chance, it must be due to free will, since there are no other categories of decision. Insane people, admittedly, may not make truly free choices since their condition determines their actions, but their brains are incapable of functioning properly for the same reason that a car has broken down - an inner technical defect. Neither the faults in the car nor those in the insane person's brain make any difference to either the fact that generally cars do work or the existence of free will.
Fortunately(2), the number of cases where we have no overriding knowledge which determines our actions, and can thus be said to have free will, is great.
In the whole issue of free will the question of knowledge is paramount. Where we are fully acquainted with the details of a certain situation, the choices we make in it will be determined by that knowledge as long as the mind is functioning properly. If we were omniscient, then we would have no free will in purely practical situations. Reason would dictate that we used our knowledge in a certain way (i.e. the most logical and sensible one). As I indicated earlier in the chapter, this might not be good. In Heaven, if there is such a place - and I am sure we all desire there to be, even if we don't believe in a God who controls entry to it - all moral uncertainties would be absent, and we would be prevented from acting in any irresponsible fashion that might damage the quality of our lives and those of others. We would always be behaving in a rational way. If souls in Heaven possess omniscience (I was thinking of that passage in the Gospels which states that there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed), it would seem that there is no scope for free will. However, in Heaven it is unlikely that we would mind that. But ought we not to mind? Apart from it seeming desirable that we could exercise choice in various matters, since it makes us feel more like free agencies, the universe would surely be more exciting if there were always things that were still to be discovered; we would not mind that we did not know them, but rather would draw pleasure from that deficiency in our knowledge.
The principle that free will diminishes in proportion to the extent of our knowledge may not apply in aesthetic matters (Heaven being something absolutely fantastic, it can be assumed there will be plenty of things in it which will be aesthetically pleasing). It doesn’t in this life, as we know. Since reason, which involves establishing the relationship between facts, does not enter into aesthetic matters at all (with no harmful consequences ensuing from this), as no-one would regard red's being a better colour than green as a fact rather than an opinion, the choices we make in those matters must inevitably be free. One might say, though, that if there is a God then He is presumably the ultimate authority on aesthetic as on other matters. His opinions in this field are the ones that really count. He knows that all things are aesthetically good, and any preference for particular colours, hobbies, artistic forms, or physical configurations over others will be on the part of human beings, and purely subjective. Yet because we don’t think in this way, we inevitably make free decisions on the matter.
Comedy is a similar case to aesthetics; within reasonable limits imposed by decency, it is possible to have differing views as to what is amusing. It also involves a kind of intuition (as to what would be funny), rather than the establishment of certain incontestable truths. It is more to do with how to make use of facts, how to portray them, than identifying them in the first place.
If one accepts that there are such qualities as good and evil, right and wrong, then our actions on moral matters are another thing which prove the existence of free will. Moral dilemmas are often of the kind where we are not sure what course of action to take, even after careful thought; and even if our nature inclines us strongly towards a particular course, our conscience may pull us in another direction (though perhaps this does not happen as much as it ought to). But free will needn’t only apply in cases like these. Moral decisions may involve simply a strong temptation to do what is known to be bad, and the willingness or otherwise to resist it. Reason doesn't come into second category moral decisions (as I have decided to call them, as opposed to first category moral decisions, in which, though we may choose wrongly, we do not do so out of wilful perversity); we simply do the wrong action because we want to, the bad side of our nature having triumphed over the good side. In second category moral decisions rationality is a less important factor than it is in first category ones and in all practical matters. Immoral, to whatever degree of seriousness, acts are not rational ones because immorality is always an irrational thing; it causes damage to the lives of ourselves and others, and so works against the pursuit of happiness, whether or not we admit that. It is significant that we tend to regard it as sensible (i.e., rational) to act in a morally good fashion, for that implies that to act in a morally bad fashion is not sensible (i.e. is irrational). At the best of times we are always prone to break our own rules; but usually, failure to recognise the principle that immorality is irrational is due either to being too stupid to do so or to perversely not caring about what is right or wrong, good or bad. To have a choice, and thus any scope for free will, implies having criteria which one can use to make the choice, and it is a process of reasoning which allows us to identify and balance those criteria. To have a free choice one must be capable of acting rationally, to some extent at least, as otherwise one's actions are determined not by one's free choice but by whatever factor is causing one to be irrational. Being rational, moral choices are free choices. But if to act immorally is to act irrationally, how therefore can moral choices of the second category be really free? We have this conflict: "The use of reason enables me to have a choice and thus free will," versus "the use of reason makes it inevitable which course of action I, if my brain is functioning normally, will pursue, and thus circumscribes my free will". The use of reason may be essential in making a choice but on the other hand it very often diminishes free will, because it points the way to a course of action which a sensible person would inevitably pursue.
Apart from the fact that our own experience suggests our will is free, it should be recognised that there is clearly a qualitative difference between second category moral decisions and other kinds of decision (moral or otherwise). We are capable of feeling guilt when we have acted immorally; we don’t always, but the mere fact that we can is what is significant. Secondly, immoral actions may not seem like irrational actions – as opposed to what we are simply disposed to do by nature - at the time they are committed. We may feel there is a difference between acting irrationally and acting immorally, and that they are not the same thing. Because we do not perceive immoral actions as being irrational, rather than bad, we are not, when we choose to act wrongly, consciously choosing to act irrationally (all our waking thoughts and, in a different way, our sleeping ones - i.e. dreams - are conscious regardless of whether we attribute them to free will).
When one decides to commit an evil act (the temptation to do so being a necessary corollary of deciding not to commit a good act), no reasoning is involved (especially if we regard good as rational and evil as irrational), so no rational argument can be used to deny that the decisions are free ones. It is simply an emotional inclination which one gives in to out of weakness, not a rational matter.
If, as suggested below, an insane person may still be acting voluntarily to some extent, in that they choose not to be treated, and opt for a course of action that will make their problems worse, then we may also be acting voluntarily in the case of those irrational actions which are called immoral (here it is useful to bear in mind that immoral actions committed by people who generally are considered to be in possession of their faculties are undoubtedly qualitatively different from actions committed by people who are mentally ill).
If free will involves the use of reason, then the insane cannot be said most of the time to have the former, since they do not think rationally except for occasional flashes of normality. Certainly it is the general view that they are not responsible for their actions. Immorality is qualitatively different from insanity, even though the two may perhaps go together at times as we have seen, just as moral decisions are different from practical ones. It is this qualitative difference between insanity and immorality on which our attention should be focused, rather than that between sanity and insanity.

The conclusion of this chapter is that there are situations where we definitely do have free will; or at least that there is more evidence we have it than that we don’t have it. Although our thoughts may be made up of electrons - if they are at all real, reason argues they must be made up of something - and their position determines how we behave, regular experience makes clear that sometimes, if not always, the electrons move themselves.

1) A question discussed by Ted Honderich in How Free Are You: The Determinism Problem (OUP 1993).
(2) I use the word, but in those cases where our will is not free,
i.e. those falling within categories (1) and (2), we do not generally mind, unless it is something obviously undesirable which is happening to us. Certainly we do not mind in the case of category (2).

Someone suggested to me recently that an infinity of different universes, or at least more than one universe, was necessary for there to be free will. Since we are only acquainted with one - our own - and have at present no means of establishing whether there are any others, it may seem impossible to answer this point. I contend however that we don’t require access to any other universes which may exist in order to do so.
It is my belief, set out above, that it is an absolute logical truth imperfect knowledge must inevitably produce free will. You don't need more than one universe for that to be true; its truth is a necessary truth, and in any set of circumstances. In any case the implication of the idea, if I have understood it correctly, is that people in any one universe would not have enough criteria with which to make free choices. In other words, nobody in any of the universes would have free will, which rather destroys the point of having more than one if its purpose is to make free choices possible. Although the circumstances in each universe would be different, what we would need would be for people to experience the circumstances prevailing in all universes. How this could be achieved I don’t know but it isn’t necessary anyway. Situations in which there are no obvious criteria determining one's actions, leading to the making of a free decision, occur with sufficient regularity in our own universe for no other universes to be required.

Ethics, Part One

Assuming that we have free will, what purpose shall we use it for? To put it another way, what reason is there for living?
The only one that can be identified, as we will see in chapter nine, is the pursuit of happiness. We desire, quite naturally, to promote our own. But ought we also to be concerned about that of others? There have in the past been some people, not necessarily unintelligent or uneducated, who would quite happily admit, whenever it was safe to do so, that they were not concerned about it at all and were in life solely for their own advancement (good fictional examples would be Flashman and Edmund Blackadder). Even if we aren’t as honest as they are, and to be honest about something does not make it right, could it be that we simply behave in an altruistic fashion, not going out of our way to make other people’s lives difficult, because we will create problems for ourselves if we don’t (we may find ourselves socially ostracised or even imprisoned) rather than out of any real love for our fellow humans? When we speak of acting according to a code of conduct which is designed to preserve social harmony, we are speaking of what is called morals. Morals aren’t necessarily identical with virtue, which involves wanting to benefit someone because to do so is good in itself, regardless of more practical if less exalted motives. I think there is effectively, and more or less universally, a general agreement, that we should act from real virtue and not merely from blind, natural conditioning. This is subscribed to even by the selfish, who would prefer to think (as part of their selfishness) that their friends did them favours because they really liked them and not out of social convenience. When we do good merely out of habit we are therefore condemning ourselves by our own standards.
I said that virtue involved wanting to benefit someone because to do so was good in itself. In other words, virtue means essentially love, a quality which varies in its precise nature according to its object (I do not “love” my doctor, my plumber or the man sitting a couple of places away from me on the bus in the same way that I do my wife) but can be described as the adoration of something good, even beautiful, for its own sake rather than that of personal gain. Since a virtuous person would obviously choose to act morally, out of a desire not to hurt others, virtue and morals can be the same thing. But the converse is not necessarily true. No-one is perfect of course, but to love others means that as a general presumption you won’t do what is harmful to them – such as tell them lies, or cause them physical injury – unless there’s a very good reason. Love therefore means you will embrace to a greater or lesser extent the whole range of qualities which are considered virtues, because they contribute to the wellbeing of others, whether particular individuals or society in general, as well as preserving your own moral self-respect. They include honesty; patience (because impatience leads one to be rude or make rash decisions which have damaging consequences); prudence, which serves the same purpose of avoiding harmful actions; fortitude; gratitude (because not to be grateful when it would be appropriate constitutes a lack of respect); courtesy; loyalty (though when deserved, this is really another form of gratitude); fairness; generosity; honour; forgiveness (of which more later); humility; obedience (where appropriate); industriousness;, competence (since incompetence causes people problems; piety (if you are inclined to be religious); purity (meaning the avoidance of drugs and excessive drinking and, as far as your natural desires allow, casual sex). A good person would obviously aim to do all those things even if flawed human nature means they wouldn’t always succeed. Some of them, such as fortitude, are difficult to manage when the pressures operating on you are severe. It may not be essential to have all of them to be a good person, though it is certainly recommended; people who are impatient and rude can also be kind, and there are people who are both benign and very bad at their jobs. But we should at least try to practise them, which is the ultimate yardstick of moral worth because it shows that the spirit motivating us is of the right order. They should be employed except when there is a good reason not to, and in deciding whether that circumstance applies we use our goodness itself, along with our prudence, since not to be prudent causes damage, and benevolence will prefer an excusable reason for, say, lying rather than an unworthy one.
Undoubtedly a lot of good behaviour is socially conditioned, and it is necessary that it should be, but this doesn’t mean there can’t be genuine benevolence as well. How often it is virtue rather than just “morality” which is practised is difficult to say, but my personal experience suggests the former does exist, to a not negligible extent. Some would insist that even “nice” people aren’t really as caring as they’d like to think. In the Doctor Who story The Tenth Planet, in which the eponymous Time Lord is fighting the Cybermen, beings who in replacing their diseased bodies with metal and plastic components have essentially become machines, with no human feelings, his companion Polly expresses revulsion at their enemies' lack of emotion because it would prevent them caring for someone in distress. A Cyberman replies, "there are people dying all over your you "care" for them?" Some fans of the series have described the criticism as perceptive. And indeed it is, but only in that it highlights an interesting moral issue. Polly's revulsion is not, I believe, hypocritical. In a way, yes she does care about the millions of anonymous people who die every day in car crashes or from diseases. We do regret the fact that people die in large numbers all over the world, and would try to prevent every single one of those deaths if we could. None of us is perfect at the best of times, but if you somehow came across, or were given, a magical device which if you pressed a button on it would immediately cause all suffering everywhere to cease, wouldn't you use it? Of course you would. (To do so might be unwise if there are good practical, moral or theological reasons why suffering occurs, but it would not prove you to be uncaring). We can't help the fact that we never find ourselves in that situation.
It's not that we don't regret the multitude of anonymous deaths; it's merely that we care about them in a different way from that in which we would someone whose death or suffering was taking place in our physical presence (and/or whom we might know). The reason for this is rooted in practical necessity. For each of the millions of deaths that take place in the world each day to cause us the same amount of grief as would that of, say, a close relative would be mentally crippling for us (even supposing that the brain were capable of picturing them all in the same way as it can an isolated death, or incidence of suffering, which takes place before one's eyes, which it isn't). Here, we see at work a natural safety valve and defence mechanism. It's a case of the selfish gene acting to preserve the wellbeing of the individual, and thus of society as a whole, in a way which does not preclude their being compassionate. Of course there are bound to be some people who aren't so altruistic, and who either want suffering to be widespread or simply wouldn't bother to take the action necessary to stop it, but how could anyone know who was selfish, and thus deserving of criticism, and who wasn't?
Virtue means valuing others’ wellbeing as much as we do our own. In fact, where there is a direct clash it means we must put it before our own, in so far as it is humanly possible. This doesn’t mean we should forget to love ourselves too, and to recognise that there is a limit to how much any individual can be expected to bear for society’s sake. If we each went too far in putting others’ happiness before our own, no-one would ever be happy. One's care for oneself and one's care for others are meshed together, interrelated, in a most beautiful way, a way that all but defies the power of words to describe it. If others are decent and virtuous they will care for you, and therefore if you make yourself happy and successful they will be happy too (and you will want them to be happy if you are decent and virtuous). This is especially true with relations between loved ones, where the emotional bond is that much greater. When I had failed to be happy in life one of the worst things about it was the feeling that I had let my parents down, after they had invested so much in my wellbeing. And if we couldn't see that selfishness, hatred and prejudice, on our part or someone else’s, or simple misfortune had damaging effects on own lives we would not be able to appreciate the harmfulness of them to others. Good and evil would inevitably be alien to us regardless of how we would react to the knowledge of them if we had it. If we don’t love others we can’t love ourselves, whatever we might think, because it means we are selfish and uncaring. Because we know it is the right thing to do, to have virtue boosts our self-respect. But we must love ourselves too, because we can’t love others if we don’t. We know that they are, or ought to be, distressed by the spectacle of us living in ways that are damaging morally and practically, so to do that is to show no consideration for their feelings. This applies even if they are not family members.
However, virtue only works if the individual accords a higher priority to others’ needs than to their own interests, where there is a clash, because sometimes this is the only way to solve a particular problem. The exceptions are when the cost to oneself in mental and physical terms would simply be too damaging. Then, it may be true to say that the individual is unable to make the sacrifice; if not, the consequences if they do can still be horrible enough to exonerate them from blame if they don’t. One ought to make the sacrifice, if the stakes are high enough, but could be excused from doing so. Whether the extenuating circumstances apply is something only the conscience can decide. I mean here the conscience both of the individual from whom the sacrifice is required, who is in the best position to understand the pressures they’re being subjected to, and of those who must decide whether they are wrongdoers if they don’t oblige.
We cannot demand, or even ask, of any person that they should for example go to the end of the scale and sacrifice their life for any cause, no matter how commendable it might be if they did. Self-sacrifice is a noble thing which, like any other virtue, has to come from the heart and would be debased if it were made compulsory or obligatory (and if we do demand that people practise it, we are effectively saying that it is obligatory even though we do not have the means of compelling them to do it). If that principle has universal validity the awfulness of what the sacrifice is intended to prevent makes no difference to it, though I don’t say so lightly. Secondly, our nature very often makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do what is objectively right, and in such cases it would not be compassionate or humane for us to be censured. We often criticise the ordinary inhabitants of Nazi Germany for not having spoken out against the conduct of the Hitler regime at home and abroad, forgetting (or not caring) that if they had done, they might have been executed or imprisoned in horrific conditions. It should also be considered that it might not be they, or just they, who suffered but their family (as in the case of Count von Stauffenberg, mastermind of the 1944 bomb plot against Hitler). If not directly victimised by the regime, they might still be deeply traumatised by their loss. Even if we personally were prepared to make the sacrifice, feeling it to be ethically correct and possessing the courage to go through with it, there would be questions of moral principle involved; when our death may have harmful physical and emotional consequences for others, even though it may benefit a greater number than it affects adversely, is it morally permissable to make them suffer for what are our own personal values, values they may not share – whether or not they should - or do not wish to go to the same lengths as ourselves in order to uphold? Without being selfish towards their families, some may still feel an overwhelming need to do what they do, which for them has to outweigh all other considerations; but others might not. It could be argued that if I choose to make a stand against something a person, or persons, are doing which I consider to be wrong, I do not have a right to involve a third party in the consequences of that action, possibly without their consent, where those consequences are likely to be dangerous for them. I am in effect deciding that that third party should suffer, or be exposed to the risk of suffering, for the sake of a fourth (the people – of whatever sort – who the Nazis might kill if they are not stopped). Of course, the very conscience which motivates my behaviour in the first place might tell me that I should, and that for me to prioritise my family’s wellbeing over the interests of humanity as a whole was wrong (which, to be honest, it would be), showing a lack of objectivity. I’m only saying we cannot demand people make such sacrifices, not that they are wrong. However forgiveable in the light of all we know about Hitler, to positively insist on them shows a certain arbitrariness and insensitivity to all those who will suffer the tyrant’s revenge. And your family are individuals, whose feelings on the matter ought not to be ignored, whatever their relationship to you and the reasons why the Nazis would or wouldn’t victimise them. We cannot help feeling that those who did make a stand and paid the ultimate penalty are far better people than we, but at the same time we cannot be justified in condemning those who didn’t follow their example. It is one of those things where to do the act in question is saintly, but not to do it is forgiveable.
Virtue (a term we will from now on regard as interchangeable with morality) means the avoidance of evil thoughts and acts. The former are as bad as the latter, because they are repellent in themselves and will result in a surly hostility (as bad in its own way as killing someone) towards the person who is their object, if not in actual physical violence should the opportunity present itself. Perhaps the best example of a thought being as wrong as an action is Jesus’ pointing out that a man who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart. As advice on sexual morality this appears suspect because it seems to be condemning people simply for their natural desires, which isn’t very helpful. There could be some confusion between “adultery” as in unfaithfulness to a marital partner and general promiscuity, which is what the term “adultery” may have meant in Biblical times, but it is one or the other which is being condemned and neither is really desirable even if there may sometimes be an excuse for it - natural urges, long separation for whatever reason rom a spouse, etc – and if physical infidelity is not the worst thing a husband or wife can inflict on a marriage. It is undignified to fornicate just because one can, and this may be the intention of someone who is thinking about sex. Exaggeration is being used to make a point. If “adultery” or anything else is wrong, then by asociation the thought of it, which involves relishing the action – and you should not relish a bad thing – must be wrong too. This should also be the view of secular society, since the principle is valid whether we’re religious or not.
I would define an evil act as one which causes harm, whether mental or physical, to someone purely for its own sake, and an evil thought as the contemplation of doing so, whether or not it is realised. It may involve disliking people for a particular and invalid reason, such as their gender, race, hair colour etc., or it may not, but it is appalling either way. If this evil is something infinitely repugnant, and it must be regarded as such by both the secular and the religious world (though out of habit I will use the term “sin” to describe it, if that’s alright), then it follows that there can be no such thing as an acceptable degree of it. This applies to both the kind of sin and the number of times it is committed. A small sin is still a sin; what counts is whether a sin, large or small, is repented. To say genuinely nasty things about red-haired people (as some do), takes the same amount of evil as to gas to death six million Jews, it’s just that because it doesn’t have a physical manifestation it can somehow be viewed as less serious. We are also inclined to overlook it, relatively speaking, because in practical terms it seems less of a problem, where scale is concerned. I don’t know if there are more Jews in the world than redheads (excluding red-haired Jews, who do exist, from the argument for the sake of simplicity), or the converse, but the total number of people Hitler killed or would have done if allowed to – remember that he regarded anyone who didn’t fit his definition of an “Aryan”, or opposed his policies, as suspect – is certainly the greater number. We also forget that if someone really doesn’t like redheads or blondes, and there are such people, they may treat them badly at work, for example, and so be doing what is socially damaging. In extreme cases, when the person who is prejudiced against them is particularly wicked and/or mentally disturbed, they may even kill them – there is some evidence this has actually happened – even if not managing to run up such an impressive total of murders as Stalin or Pol Pot.
Returning to general matters, a molehill can grow into a mountain, and if we tolerate “small” sins (assuming there can be such a thing) our flawed nature will mean we may end up committing larger ones. A “small” sin, I suppose, would be for an example a disparaging remark which would itself not necessarily be translated from the verbal into inflicting physical, or serious social, harm. But we must beware of it because even the virtuous, if they do it once, can do it again. Even if a sin is only committed once it is still a wrong which must be repented. In fact, to sin on one occasion is very often to sin repeatedly once one has got into the habit, as with the murderer who having killed the first time finds it a lot easier to kill the second, and the third, and so on.
The need to recognise the principle that the essence of sinfulness lies entirely in the nature (as well as the purpose) of the act, not its scale, has all kinds of other implications, as we will see.
It applies to the penalising authority, the law, as much as to the wrongdoer, and for the penalising authority’s own moral sake as well as for any others’. We must condemn people for what they have done and not for what they haven’t, even if they are wicked enough to have probably done it anyway. It would be entirely wrong to falsely accuse Hitler or Stalin of shoplifting even if they have already been found guilty of mass murder. In the circumstances no-one would be much bothered about the shoplifting, but that isn’t the point. Nor does the amount of time an evil does or does not endure for make any difference. A thousand years of one kind of sin do not justify a few minutes of another. Back in the late 1990s an article by Lesley White in a leading national newspaper hit back at men who were complaining at the recent development of aggressive feminism which presented negative stereotypes of them, pointing out that since the opposite extreme, men disparaging women as anything other than sex objects, had been the dominant one until very recently, having prevailed for hundreds of years, it was a bit rich for them to complain about it. The implication here is that we can afford to put up with the newer sin for a time, at least (it is not specified how long that time should be), after being guilty of the old one for millennia. But if sin is abhorrent in itself, the idea that there can be an acceptable level of it (which is what is effectively implied here) is deeply disturbing. The principle that one wrong does not excuse another is surely paramount, and if it is, then by moral logic it can’t matter when or for how long either is being committed.
I have heard it said that in the case of something like the Nazi atrocities, those who carried out the orders to commit the crime should be hung as well as those who gave them, in view of the seriousness of what was done (when presumably they would not be hung if the tragedy occurred on a smaller scale - even if it still involved murder?) The important factor here is surely not the nature or scale of the act, however horrendous they might be, but the motive one had for doing it. If one endorsed this principle one would also have to enforce it in every case where murder or torture had been carried out (to any degree), unless there was to be unjustified discrimination; and this would lead to a legal system that was thoroughly Draconian, if not cruel. Logically, an unintended (in the sense that one might not have committed it if one had not been specifically ordered to) act is unintended whatever the nature of the act. Nor does the scale of an act have any bearing on whether it is right or wrong, and it is its rightness or wrongness which surely matters in any decent ethical or legal system. After all, we’re no less horrified and appalled by the crimes of a serial killer (especially in cases like the Moors Murders, where the victims were children) because that person killed a relatively small number of people before they got caught (or because the victims weren’t Jews or from any other ethnic minority). If we abandon this standard we run the risk of becoming entangled in complex and invidious arguments about where the line should be drawn, about whose sufferings were the most horrible (and thus justified a particularly severe punishment for the offender) unless we were to abandon the principle of judgement by motive altogether, which would be both irrational and unfair. The principle that severity in the matter is justified because of its obvious practical value of helping to dissuade any who might participate in future atrocities is not one that is recognised in law, for the law is rightly concerned with moral considerations as much as, sometimes even more than, practical ones. It may sometimes be necessary, unfortunately, for those practical reasons to convict someone pour encourager les autres but as a general rule you should be punished for doing something that was actually wrong, and without extentuating circumstances, rather than for any other reason.
There can be sins of omission as well as sins of commission, so as well as not doing evil things oneself virtue also means not allowing others to do them. Moral considerations of course apply not just to what one does but also to what one does not do. We are all familiar with the maxim “evil flourishes when good men do nothing” (implying that the good men are not as good as they like to think). It is undoubtedly true. I have no quarrel with the claim that Hitler might well have been stopped from doing as much damage as he did if the leaders of Britain and France had been quicker to rearm in the mid- and late 1930s, making him think twice about aggressive acts, instead of underestimating the threat he presented.
As well as being a sin of omission guilt can also be indirect rather than direct. At one end of the scale, this may mean doing something without even caring about its consequences, perhaps with the deliberate intention of doing harm and in the hope that the indirectness of the wrong will cause it not to be spotted (it can always be blamed on those who were directly responsible). There are other examples of indirect guilt which don’t need to involve a specific, if concealed, desire to do harm. I may do a harmful thing because I cannot help it, but if my not being able to help it was my own fault (I may have foolishly allowed myself to get drunk, or been taking drugs) then I am just as culpable. Whether I knew that harmful consequences would result from my action is irrelevant; the point is that commonsense should have told me they might have done. Virtue means eliminating the possibility of harm to someone or other, not just dealing with the actuality of it. Even if I had been careless or stupid rather than deliberately wicked I am still to blame. We can wilfully choose not to know something, to close our minds to what may bring about an unwelcome change to their lives or others’. There must be an understandable reason for us to fail to prevent evils which are intended by others (or for that matter any harmful thing which is potentially likely to affect them, even if it arises from natural and/or unforeseen causes). Not caring is as bad as positively intending to do harm, and offhandedness as bad as deliberate malice, in the way it treats others as being of no value, and therefore a tiresome inconvenience, even if this is not expressed in actual verbal or physical aggression.
The last, but by no means least, thing to say about guilt is that it is not transferrable. As we will see in a later chapter a thought, whether evil or good, can only be my thought or it could not be said that “I” had it. By the same token the action which proceeds from my thought can only be my action. No-one else can logically be held responsible for it. It has been commented that when he was British Prime Minister Tony Blair was very good at apologising for things he hadn’t done, such as the enslavement of black Africans during the colonial era. And not for those he had, such as Britain’s part in the misguided and disastrous Iraq war of 2003, but that isn’t our main concern here. The absurdity of the concept of “hereditary guilt” is so obvious that it really ought not to be necessary to highlight it, but the fact that dignitaries of the city of Liverpool (none of whose white inhabitants were alive at the time the injustices occurred, just as no other white people were) actually did make an apology for its role in the slave trade, and the pressure for a more general statement of contrition from those such as writer and columnist Gary Yonge, suggest that it is. The value of any apology would in any case be degraded because to be of any significance it would have to come from the person or persons responsible for the wrong which is being apologised for.
To allow oneself to be pressurised into apologising for something one did not do sends out the wrong kind of moral signal; it misleadingly implies that it is legitimate to blame the innocent for the actions of the guilty, and sets a highly dangerous precedent by which they could be brought to account for wrongs committed by others who merely happened to have been of the same race, nationality or culture as themselves. How the principle will be invoked in the future we cannot say, but the consequences could be particularly grievous it the atonement desired was of a kind which involved causing physical suffering or deprivation, and if the “guilty” were victimised should it not be made (regardless of the form it took). It goes without saying that a principle (such as that those who obey an unjust order to kill are necessarily as guilty as those who gave the order) is not right just because it has become accepted practice.
As an extension of this, it is wrong to try to punish the guilty by killing those whom everyone accepts to be innocent, in order to punish a third party. The innocent is in these cases usually a wife, husband, son, daughter, or other relative of the person concerned and the crime may have been prompted by the perpetrator’s own loved one having been murdered. The particularly appalling nature of the matter lies in the victim being used effectively as a tool, an instrument, in a scheme of vengeance against that third party without their own rights as an individual to life and happiness being considered. The family relationship makes no difference; because people are individuals despite necessarily being the result of a sexual union between two other people, and it is the way their individuality is effectively being denied by this kind of crime, which sees them only as the son, daughter or whatever of the object of your hatred, who can be destroyed in order to get back at them, that makes it so (a) chilling and (b) objectionable.

There may be cases where it is difficult to tell whether something is a virtue or a sin. Here the cardinal principle must be that the essence of either lies in the intention behind the thought or act in question (regardless of whether its consequences were harmful, although they would till have to be dealt with somehow). This applies equally to what one does and what one does not do. And, as implied, to actions and to thoughts, which may or may not ever be translated into physical behaviour either because the thinker was deterred by the social consequences of the latter or it was practically impossible, but are nonetheless wicked. As an extension of this the whole state of mind a person is in with respect to an action they have done or are intending to do, have not done or may not do, matters. This certainly seems to be the position taken in the Bible, where Man is expected to follow either the law of Moses or, later, the teachings of Christ (the latter not necessarily making the former redundant), but this is obviously not possible where people have been exposed to neither. Then, we can only be judged by the natural law which operates irrespective of Christian evangelism, and which tells a person whether what they do is wrong or right, and by the laws of the religion they are currently practising. They may not always know when something is sinful, not having had the benefit of God’s word, but since they are human beings with free will and reason they can at least have reservations about it. In St Paul’s words “their conflicting thoughts condemn, or perhaps excuse, them.” Failure to make one’s mind up does not seem a particularly admirable thing, but the idea here is that the person was at least trying to make their mind up, which implies they had doubts as to whether their current form of behaviour was right, and if this is all one can manage then by proxy it stands in for full repentance. Of course when someone does the right thing we can be forgiven for taking advantage of it even when it was done for the wrong reason, indeed it may only be prudent to do so. But a person who has the wrong kind of motives for what they do may easily do harm as well, and besides we should be concerned for their spiritual wellbeing. Moral actions are of no value unless they are performed with good intentions. This means that they must be virtuous and not done out of mere instinct or from self-interest. It is possible that in wicked or selfish people altruistic desires operate on a subconscious level; but because they are not conscious the desires are no credit to the person who has them.
An act may be terrible but nonetheless defensible from a moral or practical point of view given the nature of the circumstances in which it is committed. It is possible to conceive of a situation where, if society were collapsing under the strain on the economy and health service from a massively increased and also ageing population, the only way to avoid a disaster of unparalleled proportions would be to practise eugenics on the sick and the elderly; if this was not done, everyone would suffer, including the sick and the elderly themselves. However awful the act might be the motive behind it was not cruelty, and the decision to do it it may not have been taken lightly. Naturally I hope from the bottom of my heart that it never becomes necessary.
Or people may do things which don’t have such a justification because they were forced to by others, fearing the consequences if they did not (which need not have been specifically spelt out). Returning to the subject of Nazi atrocities, it has been a common complaint that those who assisted in carrying them out try to defend themselves by saying they were "only obeying orders". The implication, if such excuses are seen as deplorable, is that either they could have refused to carry out those orders without suffering any unpleasant consequences or that such consequences were obviously something that one could decently have been expected to suffer without hesitation. This approach can be questioned. It is known that opponents of the Nazi regime - and any member of the German armed forces who refused to implement the extermination policy would have been placed in such a category - as well as, sometimes, their families, did pay with their lives as a result. They may not, on the whole, have suffered as grievously as, say, the Jews, but their experiences, assuming they remained alive, would still have been extremely unpleasant. Criticisms of their conduct are based on the assertion that they knew what kind of regime they were serving; but if they knew what it was like, they would have known the consequences of non-cooperation. We should put ourselves in their position; is it really credible to suggest that we would all nobly sacrifice our lives without a second's thought? What they should have said was that they feared they might be killed themselves if they did not obey their orders, a much better defence than simply to say they were obeying them. Even if they themselves had been prepared to die, their families might also have suffered, especially in the last stages of the war when the regime, knowing it was losing, was particularly brutal and vindictive.
If the principle that the executors of orders to kill are not necessarily guilty is allowed, the moral debate, and thus any actual trial that takes place, then focuses on the question of how far the defendants were aware of the tendency of the regime to kill those who refused to obey its orders, and thus had an excuse for their compliance. We are talking here about something that would be extremely difficult to establish. We’d be entering a veritable moral and legal minefield. For this reasons it was sensible for the UN to restrict punishment to those who had essentially followed orders. Michael Elkins, author of Forged In Fury, a book about the Jewish Brigade – vigilantes who carried out killings of Germans involved in some way or other with the Holocaust in the aftermath of the Second World War, disagrees with this. Disturbingly, he writes in his foreword that to write a balanced, objective account of the matter “has not been my brief”. If one abandons the principle that to be balanced and objective is desirable in all things, one is free to write or speak any kind of irrational nonsense, including racist remarks about Jews. There may be a belief that the past sufferings of the Jewish people excuse them, or their Gentile defenders, from the normal obligation binding on human beings to be fair-minded and sensible in all things, while others are not so excused. This is unacceptably discriminatory as well as dangerous merely by token of the rejection of objectivity. My experience suggests some Jews would agree with me.
But if a Nazi would have done what they did anyway, regardless of the consequences if they had refused, because they genuinely hated Jews, gypsies, etc and wanted to kill them they are condemned by morals (one might say by their hearts, especially if there is a God who knows all the secrets of the latter) if not by the law. The fact that they had little choice but to act as they did anyway obscures their guilt but, because of the spirit in which they did it, does not negate it. They merely found themselves in a political environment where they could indulge their hatreds and prejudices and in fact were positively encouraged to do so, something of which they took advantage. Some on both the German and the Japanese side in World War Two had no choice but to act as if they did enjoy what they were doing, because to indicate otherwise suggested potential dissent and that might have led to unpleasant consequences for them (another thing which made it harder to distinguish the wicked from the ultimately virtuous). It is still the case that some would have enjoyed it without being forced to do so (or to pretend that they were doing so). They had no need to put on an act. By the same token, those who would not have killed their victims anyway are exonerated, since their behaving as if they liked doing so was compelled by their circumstances just as much as the action itself. According to the principle that the sinfulness of an act lies in both the motive and the spirit (which is a slightly different thing) behind it, those who did enjoy it were undoubtedly wicked. (You could also argue that the German people were acting sinfully by letting Hitler get into power in the first place, but that is a complex question, in which the fact that he Nazis achieved power through shady intrigue with the other political parties, rather than the will of the mass of the people, and were afterwards assisted in establishing a dictatorship by the Enabling Act which had already been passed to give the government emergency powers to deal with socio-political unrest in the conditions arising from the Great Depression, must figure strongly).
If those who directly killed dissidents or “subhumans” took pleasure in what they did, and thus might have done it whether they had to or not, or just didn't care which would be equally deplorable, then from a moral point of view they ought to be punished, whereas those who only did it because they had little choice ought not. The trouble is that the law does not recognise this distinction; perhaps it ought to. The problem with my position on the matter, if it is endorsed, is that it may mean letting a lot of very wicked people go free (people may invoke the consequences of refusal in their defence when in fact they would happily have done what they did anyway, and it might not always be possible to tell that that was the case). However this is compensated for by the fact that at the same time a great many people who did not really deserve to be executed or imprisoned would be spared those fates.
It goes without saying that it is immoral to respond to a terrible deed that is done accidentally, no matter how stupid and unnecessary the accident was, by deliberately killing the perpetrator. Those who do, if not plain spiteful, are usually mad, exceptionally stupid, or have been led by foolish behaviour on the part of the offender to believe that the act was deliberate, as may have been the case with Iran's ordering the bombing of an American airliner in retaliation for the shooting down of one of their airliners by a US warship earlier the same year (1988) – as almost certainly happened in the Lockerbie affair.

When people do do the right thing, it may be for the wrong reason. Someone who does the right thing for the wrong reason is just as likely to do the wrong thing, since the same degree of moral iniquity is behind both. We should not praise people for actions which have had benign consequences but were done from unworthy motives, because it was entirely fortuitous that their actions had the consequences which they did. Because the state of one's knowledge determines one's intentions, and it is by our intentions that we must be judged, we certainly cannot say that X acted commendably in doing such-and-such if he was not aware that his action would have beneficial results for other people; knowledge of the details of a situation is a necessary prerequisite for deciding what to do in that situation, good or bad. He cannot be said to have consciously done the right thing, which is the only way to gain moral credit. It is not enough just to have a good excuse for something; you must know it is a good excuse (which you can only do by examining your conduct). If you do not, then for all you are to know what you are doing may be wrong; and it is your responsibility to know, so that if it is wrong you can do something about it and so avoid the consequences to yourself and/or others. If you don't attempt to work out if it is wrong, then that is obviously as bad as doing what you know is wrong; it makes no difference if it turns out ultimately to be right. Because you willfully adhered to an attitude which might have been immoral, out of prejudice or moral laziness, without question your state of mind was effectively still one of voluntary sinfulness, and thus in essence repellent. Because homosexuality seems wrong to them some people develop a strong feeling of distaste towards it without ever questioning whether that is right. Disregarding any absolute standard of right and wrong which may in fact exist, were they to re-examine their views they might find themselves abandoning them. Whether homosexuality is immoral is for some people still a controversial issue, and not every open-minded person can accept it as something natural and normal (for those who want to practise it, anyway) and harmless. It makes no difference. Of course those who oppose “gay rights” are not really being wicked as long as they subscribe to the principle that although you hate what you regard as a sin you must love the sinner; but the point is that they would still be wrong (people being fallible, you can be morally wrong even when you are not being morally evil).
It is said that the worst kind of wrongdoer, of criminal or political extremist, is the one who honestly believes they are right and have a perfectly good excuse for what they do. They are, in many ways, the most dangerous, because they are all the more determined to succeed and besides can infect others with their sincerity, acquiring a substantial following. But in one sense they are not the worst. It could be argued that it is far better someone does something out of a sincere, if misguided, conviction that it is right than that they do it knowing it is wrong, which is what makes an action morally bad (so much so in fact that any unpleasant occurrence which doesn’t stem from deliberate human intent, such as natural disaster, is preferable to it). You would still have to try and stop them, if you believed their actions were wrong, and it might indeed be irresponsible not to do so, but although for the sake of order it might be impossible to excuse them they are not deserving of the same degree of moral condemnation as someone who offends out of selfishness, spite, hatred, revenge or because they simply can’t be bothered to do things the legal way. They would be morally wrong (arguably) but not morally evil. Suppose someone sincerely believed that a law was wrong, and their conscience did not permit them to accept it, and broke that law accordingly. You might actually sympathise with them to a great extent, although you might not actively support them either because human weakness dissuaded you from risking a share in the possible consequences (arrest and imprisonment) of their behaviour or because you believed the law should be respected even where you didn’t agree with it. If you did so sympathise with them you certainly would not regard them as the worst kind of criminal, whether or not you approved of their actions.
The spirit behind one's actions must be of an acceptable kind as well as one’s motives, which are necessarily the same thing although they can be. If it is obvious that something which will have the effect of harming people is justified, however horrible, you can still do it with the thought “serve the bastards right” if you do not like them. A case in point is the bombing of German cities by the Allies in World War Two, a subject which will come up again later in this chapter. Let us suppose that the bombings were justified because by helping to pound Germany into submission they shortened the war, preventing the death toll from being even greater than it was; or that there were reasonable grounds for thinking they would, which likewise exonerates the politicians who ordered them. Of course the air chiefs had little option but to obey those orders. But whereas the responsibility for an act lies with those who have that responsibility, the spirit in which it is done can be common to both those who order it and those who actually do it, as we’ve seen in the case of the Nazi atrocities. Winston Churchill, who was actually more to blame for the bombings – one reason why Sir Arthur Harris (Chief of Bomber Command) rightly felt aggrieved at being so castigated over the matter as he has been – acted from ruthlessness in authorising them, rather than cruelty. The two things can go together of course, but don’t necessarily; though if unaccompanied by prudence, or conscience, ruthlessness can lead to evil and excessive suffering it essentially means being prepared to do something awful in the sincere belief that it is right, rather than doing it for its own sake. He may also have felt he needed to take into account public opinion, which was understandably vengeful following the Germans’ own bombing of British cities. But what about Harris, or those working beneath him at Bomber Command, down to the lowest rank? Harris was, and is, condemned by some people because of the spirit in which he planned and carried out his bombing campaigns, which was thought to be one of revenge. Did he, and others in the RAF think: “Well, it’s not my decision, but they’ve said we have to do it and a good thing too. At last the Germans are getting what they deserve. As for German children being killed well they didn’t care much about British children being killed, so it doesn’t make the slightest difference.” Even now some war veterans defend what happened by pointing out “they did it to us,” even if that is not their only argument. And was public opinion right to be vengeful?
I won't go into the question of why individual Germans supported Hitler, and thus of how far they were responsible for his atrocities, even though there are many important things that could be said on the subject; it should suffice to point out that the great philosophers of modern times, such as A J Ayer, have tended to reject the view that it someone does wrong it is necessary to do harm to them in return. If it is correct to say that Harris, or others, approached the task of bombing Dresden and other major German cities in a vindictive spirit then the moral condemnation of them is justified, regardless of whether or not they would have done what he did if they had had no excuse for it. It may have been necessary whether or not it appealed to Harris for any other reason, but that makes no difference to the immorality of enjoying it. A desire for revenge might have assisted him in carrying out his task with the greatest possible enthusiasm and efficiency, but it would have been morally (and spiritually, if one believes in a God who punishes all wicked thoughts) damaging to Harris himself, besides which wickedness is in essence something so repulsive that nothing can justify it (or we wouldn’t call it “wickedness”). None of this is to say that the desire for revenge isn’t understandable, so much so that God, for example, may ultimately forgive it. In the end the decision is His, not ours. What we are concerned about is whether the desire is right, or wrong and should be avoided if possible however hard it may be not to feel it.

Wrongful acts can, of course, be atoned for. With relatively minor offences, if they happened some time ago, all that is required is to turn over a new leaf and not repeat them. It may not even be necessary to say sorry to the victim, who has probably forgotten about them. Otherwise, you must give yourself up and confess your guilt and if the crime involved murder or anything damaging to people’s material or emotional interests this could mean being jailed or executed, even if you have repented. Is this fair? It is perhaps understandable if you don't but it may still be wrong. For one thing, your remaining at liberty will not ease the peace of mind of society, which will not necessarily be able to tell that you are sincere in your promise not to kill again. Unless the point is made that the crime you have committed, which may be as serious as murder, deserves the maximum possible punishment (proportionate to its seriousness) - and that can only be done by your actual arrest and punishment, whether you give yourself up voluntarily or are apprehended against your will - others will feel it is acceptable to commit the same kind of offence, as well as be encouraged to think it is possible to get away with it. If you are moral enough to repent what you have done, you are moral enough not to want to take a course of action which would encourage such things to happen, intentionally or otherwise. At best your repentance would make no difference to the crime rate - because you have confessed to your wrongdoing and apologised for it does not mean that others will do the same - and at worst it would probably increase it, wiping out the benefits that would result from your avowal not to reoffend. Of course if the judge, whose decision it must be after all, decides to let you off for some reason you have no further obligation to give up your liberty, if indeed you could still do so, and indeed it would be ridiculous to insist on being imprisoned. You should then concentrate on making up for your crime in whatever way possible.

Morality, of course, is not only active but reactive. We must respond to a good deed done us by thanking the benefactor and by returning the favour when possible. (If we ourselves do good to someone and are met with ingratitude that is no reason why we should not continue to benefit them, because then we are only valuing virtue because it brings some reward, and not for its own sake). But what happens when someone does us harm, in a physical or emotional fashion? We may then be tempted out of resentment to commit a wrong ourselves, and that wrong is a serious matter even if it doesn’t take the form of responding to the offence in kind; we may nurture a festering bitterness of the kind which poisons relationships.
So we need to discuss the question of forgiveness. We should certainly forgive when there is repentance, because even though our refusal to do so might still be understandable if the offence had been particularly grievous, that wouldn’t make it right and in fact it would be the former offender who now held the moral high ground even if they couldn’t boast about it (because self-righteousness is inconsistent with the essentially humbling nature of repentance). But if there has been no repentance, it seems a bit of a raw deal. The important thing to be said here is that “forgiveness” does not mean approval of whatever someone did that was wrong, or deciding it is of no consequence; it could hardly be that in cases of murder, say, except where there were extentuating circumstances. Confusion sometimes arises because the word “forgiveness“ is used in two ways. It can mean that what the person did was not really wrong or was a fairly mild offence, which is why you are forgiving them. Or it can mean – and this is what we are really concerned with – that it was wrong, but no malice is felt towards the wrongdoer. There can still be anger of course – logically there will be to some extent, if the act was particulary wicked - though it is suppressed. This is perfectly acceptable and a very noble sentiment. However it does send out, if unintentionally, the false signal that the wrong was not ultimately that serious, if it could have been forgiven. It is particularly inappropriate where the wrongdoer is clearly gloating over what they did, like one former IRA terrorist on a television programme where murderers were brought face to face with the relatives of their victims to see if the latter could forgive them. My belief therefore is that forgiveness is not really possible without repentance. However, the ultimate implication of hating someone for a wrong they did is that we wouldn’t be much bothered if they died, by whatever agency, and might even try to kill them ourselves if we got the chance. If they are dead, they cannot repent. And repentance is surely desirable because it shows the triumph of goodness over evil within a person’s soul. We might not know if the repentance was sincere, but it could be. Hence, we must preserve the offender’s life and doing so is by proxy a kind of forgiveness. This ought to satisfy the requirements both of Christianity and secular morality.
When hypocrites complain that someone has wronged them, we cannot dismiss the complaint merely because the hypocrite has unrepentantly committed the same kind of action. This is because of another extremely valuable moral principle, i.e. that two wrongs do not a right maketh. It is a principle which applies even where the second wrong is arguably less serious than the first; for the second wrong is still wrong. Once again, (moral) wrongness is something abhorrent in itself. If I intentionally wound you with spiteful words, then I have committed the same amount of evil as if I had been guilty of genocide; the evil is merely of a different kind, and less widespread in its consequences. If we could have responded to the original wrong in a morally defensible fashion, but did not, we are just as culpable as the original wrongdoer. The Christian principle that the least sin is an incalculable evil ought not to be seen as absurd or unreasonable; when we are cleaning up the kitchen, don’t we try to get rid of even the smallest speck of dirt or dust? But if I have wronged you, that does not justify you in wronging me. It merely means that I do not have quite the same air of authority and dignity, when I complain about what you have done, that an innocent person would, unless I admit that my original action was wrong (and indeed, unless I did I could not make the point at all, because what I am essentially objecting to is you thinking that one wrong does deserve another and that this would be more excusable than if you hurt me out of sheer spite rather than revenge.
The validity of a particular moral principle can be divorced from the moral standards of the person who is advocating it. A hypoc-rite may still be right about something even when they do not make any attempt to live their life according to their own principles (it is the making the attempt which counts most, where society's view of them is concerned, for we all of us fail to some extent to practise what we preach). Their rightness is a technical rightness and has nothing to do with moral authority, but it is a rightness nonetheless. It is defensible to take a hypocrite's advice out of pragmatism if nothing else. The fact that people do not live up to their frequently expressed principles discredits the people themselves, but not the principles.

We are, I trust, agreed by now that our aim should be to do good for our fellow creatures as well as ourselves. There can of course be some debate as to what really counts as "good". "Good" is a relative term; what is "good" for one person is bad for another, at least in that other’s opinion. Sometimes there will be honest uncertainty as to whether a particular form of behaviour is right or wrong, whether a particular action does more harm than good. Assuming, then, that our aim should be to increase the overall total of human happiness, what kind of behaviour best promotes that purpose? I clearly cannot do something simply because I want to; it may be harmful both from a selfish and an altruistic point of view. I need to be rational in deciding how my conduct will affect myself and others, and, the world being the way it is, the matter is more complex than just generally being nice to people. Whatever happens, I am going to find myself facing moral dilemmas.
I must be motivated by real virtue and take into account both the material and the psychological wellbeing of my fellow humans. Sometimes, however, a certain thing may be so abhorrent that you may feel obliged to stand against it regardless of the lives that may be lost or damaged, in whatever way, if you do. Those who feel passionately that a person's freedom over their own body must be paramount may uphold that freedom despite the fact that it may result in a large number of abortions (leaving aside for the moment the question of whether a foetus is a human being or at what stage it becomes one). One might attempt to prevent the use of human embryos for scientific research out of a conviction that the preservation of human dignity is more important, in the end, than the benefits to life and health from the results of the research. Can the furtherance of an important moral principle ever be considered as more important than practical considerations such as mental and physical wellbeing? If the principle in question is an absolute one, it must by definition be upheld in all cases and at all costs, even if death and suffering will result. The justification for this is that without moral principles to ennoble the human condition, life would be so debased that it would not be worth living anyway. The important question is that of whether one has any right to impose that view on others (for they might be in such a state of distress, suffering or peril that they would be quite happy to let moral principles be compromised or abandoned as long as they survived). By the very nature of this particular question it has to be down to the conscience of the individual what they should do; the only other thing which can be said on the subject is that sometimes hardship or the stress caused by the thought of it may be so severe that people can’t be humanly expected to let what may, in the circumstances, seem like an irrelevant abstract concept get in the way of its relief.
One of the most common dilemmas concerns whether it is acceptable in some situations to break the law. The law is obviously a guarantor of social stability and order, and as a general rule the presumption should be in favour of obeying it. However a law which is tyrannical or ill-considered can cause suffering or result in dictatorship, which must be as bad in its effects as instability. A person is therefore justified in breaking it if their conscience suggests they should. Since laws are made by fallible human beings who cannot be assumed to be right all the time, it is up to the individual to decide whether to abide by them (it is merely fortunate from the point of view of order that most people agree with the law or are at least prepared to accept it). After all, the law may command you to do something absurd or morally repugnant. In such circumstances, although you could be forgiven for obeying it nonetheless if you were otherwise likely to suffer some dire penalty, it would certainly be seen as morally commendable if you didn’t. These principles apply to democratic regimes as much as totalitarian ones; with the former there is often no means of controlling the actions of governments between general elections, which means you simply have what is effectively an elected dictatorship, especially if there has been a trend for politicians (who are a species with its own peculiar characteristics, or the tendency to acquire them, regardless of which party they belong to) to become increasingly autocratic and remote.
It may be that some people feel the law should be obeyed even when it is wrong, out of a respect for legality rather than fear of the consequences of disobedience, and that is certainly socially convenient, but it is a matter for the individual conscience. One might say that if human beings are fallible, the individual may themselves not be fully qualified to decide what should or should not be done about this or that; but since the state isn't either, they may as well oppose the law if they believe it to be right to do so and if they are prepared to risk the consequences of dissent, which may be extremely unpleasant.
In attempting to resolve any moral dilemma, what we are essentially trying to do is establish whether the end justifies the means; to establish if the harmful consequences of one course of action are outweighed, and therefore justified, by its benefits. In extremis, is it right to take advantage of something that is done from morally dubious motives, and thus encourage it, in order to preserve life and mental/physical wellbeing (your own or another’s?)? What if the money with which you set up in business and so can avoid crushing poverty of the sort which may lead to illness, depression and even suicide is loaned to you by a drug baron, who is shamelessly making a profit out of something that's causing misery and suffering on a vast scale and is only helping you so that you will be beholden to him? We often hear talk of good coming out of evil, when something that was wicked in its motive, and maybe did a lot of actual damage, has unexpected benign consequences which can be exploited. This undoubtedly happens, but to positively encourage evil so that good may come of it, which St Paul warned us against, may do more harm than good because you could never be sure how much evil would occur as a result. The harmful consequences may outweigh the good and then the moral justification for permitting the evil would be removed. To turn evil into good is fine if it’s a reactive thing. Once someone has already done something wicked, it’s quite acceptable to take advantage of any opportunities for good which arise from it, while if possible taking steps to alleviate the harmful effects of the act and punish the wrongdoer. The solution to the dilemma in this case is that the end justifies the means in a particular situation where someone’s suffering is so acute they can be forgiven for not caring where it comes from, but not as a general rule. The principle can apply both on an individual and on a much larger scale. In some countries poverty is so severe that people will support and even actively work for drug cartels and criminal organisations if those elements have proved generous with their cash, giving it to community projects and schemes to combat poverty, even though they probably only do so out of self-interest (it helps to build up a network of supporters – clients - who will reward you with loyal service for your philanthropy and patronage. Here the responsibility is on both native and foreign governments to deal with the poverty and so make it less likely ordinary people will defend these criminal groups. In the meantime, the recipient of benefits which may arise from behaviour which is morally wrong cannot be blamed for taking advantage of them, being only human, if their need is sufficiently great and there is no other means available for meeting it, any more than someone ought to be imprisoned for killing in self-defence. There is obviously a danger involved in becoming beholden to the Mafia boss or drug baron in the long run, but if in the short one the sufferer proved unable to keep body and soul together they would not be in a position to worry about that.
The whole business of ends and means is a controversial one, in which those who seem to take the view that the latter do excuse the former are sometimes subjected to fierce criticism, even abuse. The problem is that whether we say "the end always justifies the means" or "the end never justifies the means", we are attempting to apply broad maxims to what is an extremely complex subject (i.e. ethics) and an extremely complex world. There may be some situations where the end does (arguably at any rate - it is always a matter of opinion) justify the means, and some where it does not (arguably at any rate). It all depends on the circumstances of each case and on the individual’s conscience and judgement. I would suggest that the end can justify the means (suggesting that there may be times when it doesn't) rather than that it does. To say that the end always justified the means would
cause us to go further than was necessary to achieve a particular aim; in time we would become unduly ruthless, insensitive and blinkered in our attitudes to important questions and end up causing avoidable harm. To say that it never justified the means might lead us to condone some terrible things, the consequences of which might arguably be worse than if we had not acted, because we were afraid of the disagreeable sacrifices we would have to make.
In deciding whether the end justifies the means the following criteria must be satisfied:
(1) The end must be something very important.
(2) The means chosen must be the only one available. There is no other option which would achieve the same purpose with smaller cost in terms of life and happiness. If there is such an option and one fails to use it, one is just as guilty as if one had been fighting for a wholly bad cause.
Let’s take the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima during the Second World War. Both caused loss of civilian life on a massive scale and in an appalling manner, and their morality has been questioned by genuinely humane people, and not just dubious right-wing historians who try to minimise Hitler's responsibility for the extermination of Jews and others or pretend that it never took place. However it is possible to argue that they were justified. Had the bombings not occurred the war would have lasted longer than it did, with consequently greater loss of life - on both sides (it is unlikely most people would at the time have been so considerate towards the Germans and Japanese, but morally speaking the point is that they ought to have been, however hard such a standard is to meet) - than would otherwise have been the case. The end, the defeat of regimes with racist ideologies and aggressive territorial ambitions, was certainly important enough, and the means chosen to bring it about permissable if we are trying to preserve life on the biggest scale possible (and surely nothing less is acceptable). It has been questioned how effective the bombings really were in the defeat of Germany. But once the motive of revenge is condemned as unacceptable there is still the argument that it would have seemed a necessary step to the Allies, who were fighting a total war, a modern war, against a brave, determined and highly organised enemy. So the question of intentions and motives ties in with that of ends and means here.
Even if the principle we have been talking about does not apply in the case of Germany, it does to the war against Japan, where the effects of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki certainly did hasten the end of hostilities. It is possible for more lives to be lost in an entirely conventional conflict, if it goes on for long enough, than one which is ended by a nuclear weapon being dropped on a major city. Besides which it was fortunate the atomic bomb was used so soon after its creation, and by an alliance of democratic states led by more or less rational, if not morally perfect, people rather than by a small band of fanatical extremists like, say, the Nazis who it might not be possible to deter. The wrong people could have invented it instead of the Allies, and the fact of its use undoubtedly helped to deter any future deployment of it, although it was still necessary to make people think it might be used.
The question of whether an end can justify the means used to achieve it is very closely linked to the philosophy of Utilitarianism. Its founder John Stuart Mill believed our aim should be to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. According to the Utilitarian criteria, if a given end does more good overall than the means used to bring it about does harm then it is acceptable. By this criteria the bombings of Hiroshima and possibly of Germany are vindicated because by shortening the war they saved more lives than would otherwise have been lost. Whether a certain means is the only way of ensuring “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” might require careful thinking to decide, but if it was the only way it would be acceptable. Richard Dawkins has attacked Utilitarianism in scathing terms, in one of his books opining that "it sounds more intelligent than it is", but his criticisms are unfair. Logically, if Utilitarianism is the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, it follows that to oppose it means that one seeks the greatest happiness for the least number, or for nobody at all – which would hardly be more moral or more intelligent - unless we simply don’t know what we are talking about anyway. For this reason I suspect the Utilitarian principle is, in fact, followed on a common level by the vast majority of sensible, decent people whether or not they have a complex understanding of philosophy and its different branches, and even though it may be abandoned in cases where they find it understandably hard to be objective, because for example their own life or that of a loved one is under threat.
It’s never very nice to add up lives to outnumber one, as any life obviously has value, and this I suspect is why Utilitarianism has attracted so much criticism from Dawkins, Bernard Williams and others. But if lives have individual value it follows they must have cumulative value. If lives have cumulative value, then an increase in the number of lives which are destroyed or suffer from a reduction, to any degree, in their quality must accordingly be cumulatively awful. To prefer the greatest happiness for the greatest number (which obviously entails saving the greatest number of lives, since when we are dead the question of how to be happy is academic) is the only standard which is remotely fair; without it you would save or sacrifice lives on an arbitrary basis, or on that of whether you were emotionally (not rationally or morally, which isn’t necessarily the same thing) inclined to help the people who were under threat, so, since there would be no other moral or rational standard governing your actions. The consequences of this would be disastrous. However understandable it might be (when personal emotional involvement is a factor) it would amount to a debasement of morality. And though it might not be Dawkins’ intention people could, if they wished, discriminate in who they benefited and who they didn’t on invalid grounds, such as race or culture or religion or political beliefs or hair colour, or entirely on whim. Furthermore, because Utilitarianism is obviously by its nature a democratic philosophy, to reject it means establishing the acceptability of being dictatorial. And it would be a dictatorship that would act arbitrarily when seeking to save or to enrich lives, since without principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number there would be no non-subjective guidelines as to who should be saved or for that matter sacrificed. I suspect that a lot of the hostility towards Utilitarianism arises because under the philosophy of political correctness we have become obsessive about prejudice or aggression towards minorities, who being vulnerable were subject in the past, and potentially are today, to the kind of racism, homophobia etc that PC sets its heart against. I have heard people speak in an obviously adverse way of the “tyranny of the majority”, meaning that where most of the people desire something which ethnic and other minorities don’t, it is wrong and their wish should not be granted. It occurs to me that the majority’s wish may not be for something racist, but merely for something which ethnic minorities, or some of them anyway, don’t want. Even if it is racist, it should arguably be allowed for the sake of democracy, though that would still be a matter of conscience (it should be stressed here that people do not specifically insist on policies which are wholly racist, in the sense of seeking to harm those who are different purely for its own sake, as opposed to supporting for one reason or another the governments who have those policies). It may depend on how vital the issue is, and sheer necessity may on occasions lead us to abandon our commitment to be democratic in all cases. But if the principle that the wishes of the many should be disregarded, in meeting those of the few, is allowed in one case it might as well, and perhaps will, be allowed in all kinds of other cases, which undermines the whole purpose of democracy. And in some of those other cases there might be less excuse. It seems to me that some people, although singing democracy’s praises loudly and proclaiming how proud and happy they are to live in a country which practises it, suddenly discover such a phenomenon as “the tyranny of the majority” when something isn’t as they would prefer. They are being particularly hypocritical where they belong to ethnic and other minorities who have suffered in the past because the absence of democracy allowed them more easily to be persecuted, absolute power meaning that the people who wield it can more easily indulge their hatreds and prejudices. The criticism is justified even though we don’t always pay more than lip service to the principle of democracy ourselves. I have always believed in the importance of freedom of choice in education even when, according to one opinion poll, most of the British public were against private schools. It has however been questioned whether opinion polls are always accurate and because they might not be, to govern according to what they seemed to show would be irresponsible and dangerous. It would depend on how much obvious fuss in terms of protest marches etc, which might be a better guide, people were making and even that can give a misleading signal. Referenda on every issue, perhaps the best way to settle the matter, would be too expensive and administratively troublesome. It may be noted that in the case of “public” schools we may not be ignoring the public’s true wishes anyway, since evidence seems to suggest that people who acquire the money to send their children to such establishments very often do so despite their previous views.
In Utilitarianism we would, of course, only save or benefit the majority instead of everyone in situations where it is not possible, for some reason, to save or to benefit everyone. Utilitarianism could be misused out of wickedness to justify ignoring the needs and legitimate desires of a minority when in fact there is no conflict between those things and the wishes of the majority, and thus no need to discriminate. This of course I deplore. But there’s barely anything which Man doesn’t misuse in one way or another, sadly. The fact that the principle might be exploited by the unscrupulous or applied in an insensitive way does not invalidate it.
In human affairs it may be necessary, and in fact morally correct despite its harmful consequences, to leave in power a government which persecutes minorities if that government is supported by most of the population. Apart from anything else its replacement, if we toppled it and substituted one that was much more to our liking, could turn out to be corrupt and incompetent and therefore harm more people than suffered before – if wicked as well, it could persecute the majority as well as the minority, as Robert Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe. This serves to highlight the danger and ultimate wrongness of putting minority considerations first.
I feel I should point out that a just and all-powerful (within the laws of logic) God, if you can believe in such a being, is ultimately not bound by such considerations. Because of his position He is the only one who has the right to discriminate in favour of minorities and against majorities – should it be necessary – and since he allows Man free will only does so in the most important matter of all, that of determining who gets to enjoy everlasting paradise in Heaven or everlasting torment in Hell after the Day of Judgement. Of couse a majority may not be specifically approving persecution, merely taking the view that the government should be supported despite it. But that the politicians were the representatives of the people, if not necessarily on this particular matter, is where they are concerned no defence once Earthly things, including Earthly systems of government, are swept away. It may in this world be necessity to tolerate racist governments as the lesser evil, or even for moral reasons if upholding one important principle violates another, but it won’t be in the next.
Of course implementing the Utilitarian principle is, given the nature of the world, a more complex and difficult business than one would prefer. Suppose we are members of International Rescue from Thunderbirds, an organisation which rescues people from danger using fantastic technology. We are faced with a situation in which two airliners, in different parts of the world, are running dangerously low on fuel and will shortly crash, killing everybody on board. There is no time to save both of them. The first airliner has 248 people on board, the second 249. If one accepts the principle that the individual value of lives gives them also a cumulative value, and that one should seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number, we should surely aim to save the second airliner, even though the numerical difference is of the smallest kind possible. But what happens if we know that one of the 248 people on the first airliner is a scientist who is about to discover a cure for cancer? In such a case we would save the first airliner because the end result, by virtue of the research scientist's presence on it, will be to save a greater number of lives than if we opted for the second airliner. The benefits, in terms of saving a greater number of lives, from a particular course of action may be indirect rather than direct, but they are no less real for that and so can’t be discounted in any consideration of the situation.
But what if, between the time of his being saved and that at which he is to perfect his cancer-curing vaccine, the scientist dies in a car crash? Then the sacrifice of the 249 souls on the second airliner will have been in vain. But we could not have known that that was going to happen, so our action in saving the first airliner was justified. In moral matters our actions are to a great extent determined, and should certainly be judged, by what we know or do not know in a given situation, which will always influence our decisions; and to take no action because events in the always unpredictable future might nullify its consequences would relegate us permanently to the role of mere bystanders. This is true of all moral matters, since if we know something that can have an important bearing on an issue which affects human survival or happiness significantly it is our responsibility to act on it, or we are at least guilty of sin by omission. Equally, given the nature of things, it would be possible for some unforeseen occurrence to destroy the second airliner after we had rescued it; unknown to us, terrorists might have earlier planted a bomb on the plane, not knowing that it was going to find itself in trouble anyway. The drawbacks to Utilitarianism will no doubt be used by its detractors as arguments against it, but this would be unfair when the drawbacks are encountered in any kind of planning for a future which cannot be predicted.
We do not know that the scientist is going to die in this hypothetical car crash; it is merely a possibility (along with a vast number of other things). On the other hand his death is a certainty if we save the other airliner. In situations like these we must choose the course of action which leads to the possibility of something unpleasant happening (such as the sacrifice of lives turning out in the end to be wasted) rather than one which makes it certain that it will happen. We can never hope, in the nature of things, to arrive at a solution which gives a watertight guarantee of fulfilling the Utilitarian principle.
We realise at this point that there are a great many variables which are likely to make the task of deciding how to resolve particular moral dilemmas very difficult. If possible they should be included in the moral equation. But we will have to discount them after a certain stage, if they are continuing to multiply, because otherwise it will become impossible to make a decision; and it is clear that a decision, of some kind, must be made. Since the number of possible, as opposed to likely, things which may happen in the world (and upset all our calculations) is vast, once you leave out what violates the laws of logic, the only way to avoid the problem posed by variables is not to make any decision, or take any sort of action, at all; or to include them in the equation only up to a certain point. The latter course is the more acceptable one. The former may well have the most disastrous consequences (e.g. we would save neither of the two airliners).
Utilitarianism is handy in solving moral dilemmas regardless of whether they affect one person (ourselves or somebody else), large groups of people or society as a whole. What will have become clear though is that their number is potentially vast, depending as they do on the particular circumstances in which they’re encountered, and the form they will take impossible to anticipate. What should be done depends on the circumstances of each individual case, which will be different from those of other cases. All one can do is apply to them the principles set out above and below.
The issue of ends versus means, and the philosophy of Utilitarianism, both have a bearing on the question, much beloved by school and university debating societies, of whether it is better to let ten innocent people be imprisoned than one guilty person go free. The best way to tackle the issue is to assess the overall consequences to society of each of the two options. The crucial question is whether or not the guilty are thought likely to commit further crimes if freed, and what kind of crimes those might be. If the offence for which they were convicted is of a fairly petty sort, it is not worth depriving ten other people of their liberty (unless their prison sentence is a very short one). But if any of them are liable going by what they are in prison for to be violent, then they should stay inside since we cannot be sure they will not reoffend. Violence involves the possibility of causing death or injury to its target, even where this is not specifically intended, and in nature it can range from one person being assaulted during an armed robbery to millions dying if one of the guilty is a terrorist who is planning to blow up a nuclear power station. Since death – even if only that of one person – has to be counted a more serious matter than imprisonment, and more people might die than would remain wrongly imprisoned, we should opt, albeit reluctantly, to keep both the innocent and guilty where they are. The innocent may be in jail but at least they are still alive. These considerations apply equally if it was one innocent person being imprisoned while ten guilty were released. We should be aware here that a financial crime would normally make no difference to the moral equation, since it would be less serious than murder, but it might if we were talking cyberterrorism (if disrupting the world economy by knocking out the banking system’s computers led to poverty and thus political instability, loss of life could ensue and on a massive scale).
I also find myself thinking about the case of the Siamese twins who a judge ordered to be separated, because their condition was dangerous to the health of both of them but if the operation were carried out one, at least, might survive. I understand that the twins’ parents objected to his decision on religious (Christian) ground. Surely, though, a just God would probably rather one child died than both. Where, in ethical matters, two important purposes are in conflict any course of action which creates the possibility (even if it’s only that) of both being lost, rendering all our efforts wasted anyway, is ruled out. This would be the sensible secular view too, whether according to the philosophy of Utilitarianism or the reasoning of the common citizen. The parents seem to have thought that if the twins had been joined this was God’s will and Man should not intervene; but to follow this kind of view to its logical conclusion, a car crash would also be God’s will and therefore we should not try to save the people who were injured and possibly dying as a result of it. It might be thought the judge was playing God, but the latter has given us leave to do so by the very act of endowing us with free will and then placing us in situations where important decisions have to be made.
Any assessment of Utilitarianism must include the question of liberty; of whether someone should be free to do a particular thing, whether it be expressing an opinion or committing an action, even when it is harmful, because the consequences of suppressing it – a drift towards authoritarianism – would be worse
than permitting it. If we are prevented from doing what we do not want to do anyway, we generally don’t mind. But we can’t be complacent on this score because the same power that is used to prevent us from doing what we don’t intend in any case could be used to prevent us doing what we do want to. It may be that we are right to want it, or that we should be allowed to do it even if it is wrong.
The political system must allow freedom within sensible limits which are subscribed to by all. Where the opinions are concerned, it may be helpful to define what “opinion” means. It is, I think, best described as something which, though it may ultimately be wrong - that itself being something which cannot be demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt - is sincerely entertained by people who are being both rational and open-minded in their mental processes. No doubt there is much that represents itself, and is represented, as an honest legitimate opinion when it is in fact no more than prejudice, foolishness, hatred and stupidity. We may have no way of knowing whether it is one of those things, or it may be fairly obvious to many discerning people that it is not; but unfortunately, we too often have to treat what is bigoted or nonsensical as an opinion, and allow it to be expressed. Otherwise, it would be too easy to decide - perhaps wrongly, given our capacity as human beings to make mistakes - that an opinion was not really such, was not legitimate, and thus should not be expressed. The result would be the end of liberty. Simply expressing an opinion, then, should be permitted even if it is wrong and possibly not even properly thought out; after all, by the same token we permit the view that quite rightly questions it.
But is there not a sensible limit to how far this should go? At one end of the scale, mischievously telling people in a crowded place that there was a bomb about to go off there so that one could delight in the chaos that followed – a chaos that might kill people, for some could well be trampled to death in the panic to get out – would clearly be unacceptable and everyone would see the wisdom of punishing it. But before we get to that extreme we have to pass through a whole grey area where there may, or may not, be a case for suppressing freedom of speech because of the harmful consequences it might have – if, for example, someone said something that was considered racially inflammatory, it could lead to riots in which people might die. The view of the British National Party is that the presence of a large and growing ethnic minority population within the United Kingdom will ultimately be harmful to white people, who at present constitute the majority, by its effect on their sense of identity and their status within the country. Is this a racist view, and the trouble it may cause therefore unacceptable? All we can do is consider the particular factors, the particular arguments that need to be taken into account in any given moral or political issue. It could be argued that Communism has caused a lot of trouble, by starting wars against people who don’t agree with it, destroying political liberty and blighting lives through its failure as an economic system, yet in Western countries people are perfectly free to be Communists and to make public statements in support of their views. Furthermore, it may be that the adjustments in thinking which demographic changes in the UK require will be difficult for the white majority, and inevitably so, and that serious social unrest could result if things go wrong. That is not to say the problem can’t be solved without ethnic cleansing, whatever the BNP themselves might think; I’m merely suggesting that it is there, and if it is to be solved at all we need to be aware of that. (It may be significant that we allow the BNP to exist and to express its opinions regardless of the loathing, sincere or otherwise, professed towards it by the political establishment. The yardstick has to be whether there is direct incitement to kill or otherwise cause harm. Or hatred is expressed on account simply of what somebody is; the growth in numbers of black and Asian people in Britain may challenge whites’ perception of themselves in ways unwelcome to them, but blacks and Asians are not objectionable simply because they are a bit different. It is the same with Muslims or any other racial or religious group. The offence should be one of stirring up hatred with the intent to physically harm or to ostracise. It isn’t necessarily so bad merely to criticise another ethnic group or religion, for no-one is perfect and the criticism may be deserved, even necessary, because there may be attitudes within the ethnic group or religion in question which are wrong and socially harmful. The criticism has the potential to be part of that necessary debate and exchange of views which society depends upon to function properly and to decide how it should be run. Of course, any opinion with which someone disagrees is likely to cause offence and since we do not wish to ban freedom of speech altogether what we have to decide is whether the taking of offence was justified. A guiding principle in doing so is that a criticism is not necessarily the same thing as an insult. We should be allowed to say that being a Christian is a better way to get to Heaven than being a Muslim, for that is a belief to which one is entitled (one suspects that if a Muslim said the converse, he or she would not be subjected to as much abuse as a Christian would for evangelising their faith). But you don’t need to say that Muslims are bad, merely misguided.
Where a particular action is concerned, the question is whether (a) it is harmful to others or only to oneself, and (b) if it is harmful to others, is it so in a way they can avoid if they are sensible? In the case of (a), if it is only harmful to oneself it should be permitted because a person has the right to go to the devil in their own way. It would make nonsense of the whole idea of choice if we banned it in any given matter on the grounds that someone might choose what we didn’t think was good for them. Their behaviour might cause emotional damage to a relative or other loved one who was upset by the moral, and perhaps physical, harm they were doing to themselves. But grief is often the price we pay for free will. The bargain is entered into by everyone and for everyone’s benefit, rather than contracted for the dubious benefit of one person at another’s expense, a gratuitous involvement of A in the consequences of B’s suffering. If it is acceptable to curtail one person’s free will then we might as well curtail everybody else’s too. And we can only delight in someone’s free decision to do right, which is what makes them loveable, if they could have had the ability to choose wrongly. Otherwise they were programmed to do the right thing and it could not have come from real virtue.
(b) is a slightly different matter. It could be argued that it is wrong to sell cigarettes, alcohol or pornographic material because they can be physically harmful or morally degrading. But in these matters it is generally recognised, correctly, that there has to be freedom of choice. There should of course be laws preventing exposure of minors to these things, which would be the worst case scenario (because minors are not yet able to make a proper choice). A question mark remains over the legalisation of cannabis for other than medical use, which further demonstrates that moral questions sometimes have to be discussed on the merits of individual cases rather than according to broad principles; if you wish for my personal opinion on the matter I’d say it should be banned, because some doctors do report a harmful effect on health besides which the whole culture associated with cannabis (unless one simply tried it for a short time when a student) does seen ti be a dissolute and dysfunctional one.
Generally speaking, is it right (and practically feasible), to do something which will encourage what might be regarded as immorality, apparently implying that it is acceptable - e.g. making condoms and pills available to teenage girls? Well, if you are doing so you are doing so for practical reasons (e.g we cannot stop people sleeping around besides which, although we may not think what someone’s doing is right, we may as well take steps to prevent them and others dying from it). It’s the same problem as with legalising prostitution (for which there may also be sound reasons). There is nowhere any indication that anyone is necessarily approving of sexual promiscuity (as with cigarettes, which are legal but carry a government health warning). There are also possible parallels with the 1967 law permitting homosexual acts in private.
Sexual promiscuity could be viewed as something our genes, unless certain circumstances apply, make inevitable, in which case one may as well seek to minimise the bad consequences (sexually transmitted diseases, etc) which can arise from it. It is also, I think, more morally acceptable in itself than prostitution. In casual sex of the sort that is not paid for, both partners usually gain pleasure from what they are doing whereas a prostitute works purely for the money she earns and not for the sake of the act itself, which she probably feels degraded by (and is degraded by).

Ethics Part Two: Morality in Domestic and Foreign Politics

Moral considerations ought, of course, to govern political matters as well as the relationships between individuals, in view of the power politicians have to affect the lives and happiness of the people by their decisions, both on a national and an international scale. As an extension of this, a question often asked by philosophers, whose concern with ethics gives them a legitimate interest in politics, is what the best kind of state is. I have already discussed this matter, and the drawbacks of the different systems of government, to some extent in my book Facing The End, as part of a discussion of vital issues confronting the world at the present time. The conclusion was that nations should have whatever kind of government the majority of their people were happy with – even if it wasn’t democracy, though that raises the issue that by the very fact it wasn’t democratic, we couldn’t know whether people minded that it wasn’t.
If people aren’t happy with the way a country is governed, or want it to be amalgamated with another country and find their wishes denied by their rulers, is it ever justified to try to change the situation by violence? We are talking here principally of what is called terrorism. Obviously I have not had the time or opportunity to make a detailed study of all terrorist movements everywhere and throughout history, so I can’t always venture an opinion on whether a particular one is excused in its aims and/or methods. There are nonetheless some conclusions I believe we can arrive at.
For Middle Eastern, say, countries who consider themselves, with or without reason, to have been wronged by a power such as the United States, and lack the military strength to take on and defeat that power, terrorism is the only way of hitting back. But murder, particularly of innocent people (some of whom may, for all one knows, actually oppose the actions of their country) is a dubious thing in any case. It is also doubtful whether terrorism ever achieves its objectives; it failed to secure the absorption of Ulster into a United Ireland or to bring about the destruction of the state of Israel. Thus it’s debatable whether the loss of lives, often innocent, that it causes is acceptable. When directed, either with a calculated purpose in mind or out of sheer hatred and vengefulness, against a superpower such as the United States it merely succeeds in bringing down the wrath of the target on the real or alleged perpetrators - sometimes, as in Ronald Reagan's air strike on Libya, with tragic consequences. It might be argued, and its supporters certainly would argue, that terrorism achieves something by focusing attention on the issue which causes it, but that is of no account because what we are seeking is a resolution of the issue. In Ulster, for example, another aspect of the problem was communal violence and this may in the long run have focused attention on the problem, and led to a solution, anyway. Because there were sectarian killings as well as the terrorism it is impossible to say whether that violence would have been enough to bring the two sides to the negotiating table on its own, people getting tired of it after a while, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.
It is therefore altogether a bone of contention whether terrorism is ever justified. I believe it is justified, and is only justified, if the terrorists’ aims and their methods have majority support, whether active or tacit, within the country where they are active. (If this condition is met then by that token people in other countries should be permitted to help them overthrow their government). By that same token it is permissible when its aim is either to prevent the destruction of a people by genocide or to liberate them from oppression of a particularly grievous kind (and, of course, when there is no other way of achieving those aims); for the majority of people only would support terrorism if they were suffering unbearably in this way, which is the only excuse for it in any case. If a people are suffering grievously enough and terrorism is the only way, however flawed, they have of hitting back then by extension hitting soft targets (“hard” ones, that is closely guarded military bases, would present too much of a problem) is excusable. The best thing one can say about terrorism in these circumstances is that it is not so much justified but inevitable (a different business from condoning it). The terrorists will be so desperate as to blind to the arguable futility of their actions.
Though never a particularly nice business terrorism, along with armed insurrection or sabotage, is justified when the government is unsupported by the majority and its policies oppressive. It is not justified (and nor are armed insurrection or sabotage, even where the latter doesn’t result in loss of life) if it is the minority trying to impose its will on the majority – as, I will argue later, was the case in Northern Ireland and is effectively the case in Palestine. However where a minority, as much as a majority, are suffering sufficiently terrorism (along with armed insurrection and sabotage) is an inevitable consequence both on the national and the international scale. There is a limit to what any human being can endure. This stresses the unwisdom of letting minorities’ grievance go unremedied, however important is to be democratic. How far this principle applied in the case of Ulster is a matter of opinion – though there is no doubt that historically, the British and later some Ulster Unionists worsened Anglo-Irish relations unnecessarily by treating the Irish like animals - but it certainly does in the Palestinian. Terrorism is not justified if the aim is merely to change the political status of a territory, as life matters more than liberty in the end. But the quality of life matters as much, since without it the life itself bcomes unbearable.
In any case the intention should be to cause dislocation, through sabotage where possible of important facilities, rather than death - a practice followed, to their credit, by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in the 1950s and 1960s - except where the one is likely to lead to the other. Where it involves murder terrorism is certainly not permissible where its aim is to achieve political independence for a people or region, which may not be the same thing as relieving suffering (meaning that unless the suffering is particularly severe, the principle of national self-determination, though correct, should not be upheld by violence, although in practice the latter may well follow if it is ignored). Better for us all to be alive, healthy, free, and relatively happy and prosperous, whatever our political status, than for anyone to die for national sentiment alone. And as a Christian I must stress that in the next world, which is the one that counts, all political problems will be absent, wherever or not such things as distinct national and ethnic groups continue to exist. From a Christian point of view it is therefore not justified to kill people in this life, in pursuit of nationalist aspirations, when their death may if they have died as unbelievers prevent them from gaining access to that blissful place where everyone will be happy. It would be appropriate at this point to stress that terrorism which itself happens for religious reasons is often no less foolish and in fact may be particularly so. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists murder non-Muslims (who, according to the fundamentalists' own beliefs, are liable to go to Hell forever because of their infidelity, something which one presumes the Muslims wish to prevent) with the ultimate motive of advancing Islam; another example of how the fanaticism of religious extremists impairs their judgement and thus their moral authority. And whether one brings religion into the matter or not, merely being a colony, against one's wishes, of another power may in itself be bearable, if living standards are reasonably high and a degree of civil liberty is preserved, whereas the suffering and misery experienced by victims of terrorism and their relatives may not. Even if there is a serious civil rights issue it should make no difference. At least embittered Irish Nationalists during the Troubles were alive, whereas those murdered by the IRA weren’t and aren’t. It is better that a million nations be enslaved than a single person be killed in the pursuit of liberating them. By this criteria, IRA terrorism was wrong. It is true that there was a great deal of unemployment and poverty in Northern Ireland at that time, exacerbating the political discontent, but this was precisely because of the terrorist acts carried out by the IRA, whose activities hardly served to create the kind of conditions conducive to businesspeople investing in the Province.
The same principles apply to international as to domestic terrorism (though all terrorism can in a sense be international if it is backed by foreign leaders, as Libya’s Colonel Gaddaffi backed the IRA). If one has a global view of things, and wants to see endorsed on a worldwide scale the principles one ought to believe in – justice, freedom, prosperity – as surely should be the case, then one will naturally be concerned, even angry, when anything happens to threaten those principles globally. And if a certain kind of people (Muslims) are seen as suffering from oppression in one country then those of them who dislike that situation, and are disposed towards political activity to bring about change, will seek solidarity with and support from others of that kind elsewhere. The best example of this is al-Qaeda, who aim to force the West out of the Arab and Islamic world (effectively creating a new global division to replace the East-West divide of the Cold War) and possibly to destroy it, though that is a bone of contention. One can understand why they are angry at the West’s failure to prevent her oppressing the Palestinians, its support for corrupt and brutal regimes in the Middle East, or what they see (albeit sometimes correctly) as its moral degeneracy. But as with terrorism within the borders of a particular country, much depends on whether there are alternative paths. In this case there are. Embittered Islamists need to understand that the West is not so much morally inferior to Islam as different from it, and would be regardless of the relative moral decay of recent years. The culture that puts on a bikini in hot weather is simply different from the one that puts on a djellaba in hot weather; there are rules governing conduct and decency in the West, it’s just that she would draw the line between what’s right and what’s wrong in a different place. And one very pragmatic reason, although it can’t be openly stated, why the West supports Israel is that the latter is both (a) notoriously paranoid and (b) a nuclear power; there’s no telling what she’d do if she felt she’d been abandoned and her back was to the wall. Were it not for that consideration it is possible, even allowing for the power of the pro-Israeli element among Jewish voters in presidential elections, that America would not be quite so indulgent of her. Where the West buttresses the corrupt and brutal regimes it may be that she naturally wants to hold on to her relative wealth and prosperity, which means supporting the oil-rich countries of the Gulf trade with whom is essential for preserving it, regardless of their deficiencies from a human rights point of view. Any other power bloc would do the same. Without condoning flagrant injustice in any form, there therefore needs to be a greater effort towards understanding and accommodation.

At present, the world is divided into nearly a hundred independent nation states and their dependencies. These may on occasions divide into blocs who act in concert over some important issue. Some blocs are permanent, or at least intended to be, though the extent to which they have eroded the independence of their members varies or is debatable. In the past some people have talked of a world government as being a good thing because it’s thought to be the best and only way to stop wars from breaking out. But the larger the political unit is the harder it may be to govern it efficiently; or democratically, if it is democracy which is desired. And the supranational organisation may be attempting to accommodate a number of previously independent countries each with their own differing traditions, needs and aspirations, which is always a difficult task, and creates potential problems especially when the influence of any one nation and thus its ability to ensure that its needs are met may decrease proportionately if it is one among many; it will be outvoted in any representative body set up with the aim of making the system democratic. Given these reservations, the attempt by the European Union to increase its powers over its member states while at the same time extending them into all areas of national life may not be a good thing. It is better that international bodies should be like the UN, which although it can mediate in disputes between them and promote cultural activities has no actual political power over its members. Even though some dilution of national sovereignty is inevitable in today’s world, if international agreements on important matters are to be respected, for both practical and democratic reasons the independent nation state has to remain the basic unit of government, and will therefore be the focus of the individual citizen’s loyalty and sense of identity. There is a very good excuse for being patriotic.
The world should be – and by and large still is, for better or for worse - one of sovereign states, self-governing political units, and the question therefore arises as to how they should behave towards one another. The differences between them can be classified as either economic or political, but the exact nature of the dispute will vary infinitely, so that all that can be said is that they should try to resolve it through negotiation rather than by war.
Broadly speaking, the principles which should govern international relations are agreed on by all civilised and intelligent people. No nation should interfere with another's interests or liberty, either through open aggression or any other means, unless its own interests would otherwise be adversely affected. The principle of Utilitarianism, and the principles governing the question of whether the end justifies the means, apply in domestic and international politics as much as they do in ordinary everyday relationships.
Sometimes the issue is whether a country should exist at all, or be brought into existence. When should a people be granted rights of national self-determination (i.e. a new state be created), and when should that right be denied? Let us take two cases, Northern Ireland and Israel. As I interpret it, national self-determination means the right of any community which considers itself to be separate from those around it, in terms of having a different sense of national identity and culture, to become an independent political entity if it believes that is the only way to protect and to give expression to them. Almost by definition, we are speaking of roughly homogenous populations within particular areas (or NSD would be unworkable), and of the majority of that population’s members. As well as, for the sake of democracy, the overall majority of people within the geographic area in question; if democracy is a consideration, the majority’s rights of national self-determination have to come before those of the minority.
With the exception of a few Republican dissidents the issue of the political status of Northern Ireland is currently defused, as a cause of violence and killing, and one does not wish to commit murder in hopefully healing wounds, but it is worth looking at the questions raised by the Troubles and by the whole Anglo-Irish conflict over Ulster’s status.
Ulster is undoubtedly different from the Republic in terms of its religion, often a defining characteristic of national life, and its view of national destiny. The IRA’s claim that they were fighting to end the oppression of “the Irish people” may be questioned. For a start, what did they mean by “the Irish people”? If it was the nationalist and Catholic minority within Ulster, then one can with justification accuse them of trying to impose the will of a small section of the population upon the majority. If it is the citizens of Eire as well as nationalists within Ulster, then one might say that even if the people of the Republic deeply regret the fact that Ulster is not part of it this does not constitute causing them mental and physical suffering. And if the definition includes the Protestant and Unionist majority in Ulster then again it is clearly wrong, for they do not consider themselves to be “Irish”, at least not in the way the citizens of the Republic do. It is imposing on them an identity which they do not possess and do not subscribe to, much as the inhabitants of Britain are sometimes referred to as “Anglo-Saxons” even though, to be honest, many of them will be at least partly of Celtic, Scandinavian, Roman, Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent. If the same imposition of identity were practised in respect of Jews, blacks or southern Irish there would be an outcry. An element of hypocrisy is detectable here. (Another ample of the woolly thinking of some people on the issue is the sentiment expressed on one occasion by Kevin McNamara, then the British Labour Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman, that the establishment of an independent Ulster would be regrettable because it would mean the creation of a “small sectarian state”. Any state the majority of whose inhabitants profess to worship a particular religion or denomination rather than another can be called sectarian, including Catholic Ireland. Mr McNamara seemed to think that for such states to be small at the same time was somehow wrong, yet there are many states in the world which are both small and sectarian, but whose existence is not questioned (according to his views Andorra, whose majority religion is Catholic, should be abolished). Plus it seemed from what he said that there was one law for Catholics and another for Protestants, even though he may not actually have endorsed such a principle).
An important point is that national self-determination can operate in different ways. Ulster has chosen to express its own not by becoming a nation in its own right - amongst other things there is some doubt as to whether this would be economically feasible - but by being part of one country in preference to another. This is a comparatively rare phenomenon in international affairs, and is perhaps the reason why the IRA were more easily able to present the status quo as a British "occupation" of Ireland. But if it stems from the will of the majority it is no less valid than any other form of self-determination. If we admit the principle of NSD at all, we must admit it whether it is expressed in terms of being a nation in one’s own right, or of British rather than Irish, for example. The “occupation” was supported by a majority of the population, even though its military aspect may not always have been entirely popular with them.
If the claim which many Irish people feel they have to Ulster were to be allowed, it would set a dangerous example in international affairs. The right to self-determination has been upheld, tacitly or actively, in many other cases, for example the former Republics of the Soviet Union, without any great international outcry. To treat Ulster any differently from those cases would be muddled thinking if not rank hypocrisy. Where Ulster is treated differently it is because Catholic nationalists are not disinterested in what happens to her; it is something much closer to home and in which they have an emotional stake. We are liable to lose our objectivity when it is the wishes of our own ethnic or national group which are being challenged by a particular policy; that this bias may be natural does not mean it is thereby acceptable.
There are in any case very few states - or, in the case of Ulster, national communities - which have not arguably come into existence for invalid reasons, that is invasion or conquest. We now accept the legitimacy of those states. In Ulster the consequences of the occupation – the emergence of a majority population with its own distinct character, allegiances and aspirations, which should be respected - must be accepted, regardless of whether the occupation itself was right or wrong, likewise. And in Ulster, it may have had a good excuse; Elizabeth I put the Protestant planters there so that Ireland would not become a springboard for a Catholic invasion of England, a very real threat at that time and something the majority of the English people were very much opposed to.
The IRA claimed that the Northern Ireland conflict, meaning their campaign to force Ulster out of the UK and into an enlarged Irish Republic, was a colonial war in that Britain held onto the Province purely because of certain interests she had there. They presumably meant Ulster’s potentially lucrative industrial sector, or the connections certain important members of the British establishment had to her. Neither would, indeed, have been sufficient reason for preserving the Union, something eventually admitted (effectively) by the British government in a speech by John Major. But if there were no selfish reasons for it the more altruistic ones such as the upholding of the rights of the majority of people within the Province, which would be more morally defensible, would still apply, something we all need to remember. There is little point in saying that something should not be done because we don’t like the motives behind it when, if those motives were not a factor, others which would be much harder to condemn would be. This is a point relevant to all ethics.
It was claimed that Ulster’s being part of the UK was wrong because Ulster as a separate entity from the rest of Ireland came about as a result of British colonisation against the wishes of the then majority of the people. It did, but so have a great many other nations and races throughout world history; It is a very narrow kind of logic which dictates that if a territory is taken from those to whom it originally belonged it should always be returned to them regardless of how long ago the annexation took place and whatever may have happened in the meantime. If put into practice the principle would result in some absurd situations. The claim many Irish people felt they had to Ulster was unjust and its realisation impractical, the thinking behind it owing more to sentiment for the past, however understandable, than to rational considerations. One cannot hold to such an untenable position and decide it is vindicated every time the British Army or the security forces commit some undeniably wrongful act, as happened from time to time, Bloody Sunday being the most glaring example (there is even less excuse when the incident arose from some tragic mistake, which has also happened, rather than deliberate wickedness). If a principle is basically sound and just it cannot be abandoned because the means of enforcing it are wrong, and the nationalists would surely be keen to apply that maxim to their own beliefs.
There were two principal dimensions to the Ulster problem, which one must be careful not to confuse. One was the IRA’s terrorist campaign for a united Ireland. The other was the sectarian violence which blighted life in the Province and which would probably have continued whether or not Ulster were integrated into Eire (if not been made worse by unification). Had the civil rights issue not become mixed up with the United Ireland question, is it likely nationalists would have been so concerned with the latter as they were, even though they would still have passionately desired union with the Republic? Unfortunately, comparative geographical remoteness from London meant that the latter was unaware of the problems developing within the Province over civil rights in the 1960s and allowed them to fester, as well as to become in the end tied up with the matter of Ulster’s political status. The nationalists naturally felt they would get a better deal under rule from Dublin, which obviously would not allow them to be discriminated against by the Unionists. What eventually resolved the conflict was the separation of the two issues by power-sharing, which dealt with the nationalists’ grievances over civil rights, and the South’s abandonment of its territorial claim to the North.
It is possible that the various reasons why Eire felt herself to have a stake in Ulster’s affairs – the fact that she had a border with her, the fact that Ulster was historically a part of one Ireland, the fact that there is a significant minority of nationalists and Catholics in the province, who identify more with her than with Britain – somehow come together in the Irish psyche to create a good case for a united Ireland. But if those reasons are not valid in themselves, and I’m convinced they aren’t, they are no more so when combined. A house built on sand cannot stand, no matter how much of the sand there is and how firmly it is packed together. You can’t combine two or more untenable propositions to make a sound one.
Ulster’s remaining part of the UK would only be morally wrong if it in some way constituted an inevitable threat to the liberties of the Republic – if it threatened national sovereignty and liberty on a larger scale than it protected it. Since it does not cause any aggrievous damage to the mental and material welfare of the Republic’s citizens, and will not be used as a bridgehead for an invasion of Eire by Britain because Britain does not have any such intention - there is no more reason for her to be allowed to annex the Province than there would be to give Spain to Russia or Norway to the Philippines.
I have also heard it suggested that if she did annex it there would take place a considerable influx of refugees, some with belligerent Protestant views (probably not softened by the unsolicited displacement), into the mainland UK, exacerbating the problems already being caused there by immigration and overcrowding. There would almost certainly be heightening of sectarian tensions in places like Glasgow – which has seen that kind of trouble before - since there is a large Protestant population there which has had close ties to the Ulster Protestants, in the past, and to whom many of the refugees would flock to join.
The principle of NSD cannot always be implemented in practice; in some cases it might cause too much regional instability if there were enough small, and therefore vulnerable, communities, all with competing demands, achieving separate neighbourhood. This however would not be a problem in the island of Ireland which is inhabited by only two nations, the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. National self-determination should always be respected except where it would cause too much global or regional instability.
It may help to look at what might happen, within the island of Ireland itself, if Ulster actually was amalgamated with the South. It would merely be loading the (potential) problem onto the Irish, which would be hardly fair since unlike the British, who for the very reason that they are a former colonial power have plenty of experience in dealing with rebel movements dedicated to the use of terror, they would not be able to cope with a resurgence of political violence in the Province. The extension of Irish law, which to some extent is Catholic law, to Ulster, a predominantly Protestant area, would obviously cause bitter resentment there. Just the threat of it provoked enough bloodshed during the Troubles. In the event of a united Ireland the violence would markedly increase, its aim being perhaps to force the creation of an independent state of Ulster. Can we be sure there would not be massive civil disobedience, causing the government of the Province to break down; or that even worse, Loyalist terrorists would not start bombing targets, including human ones, in the South? Making Ulster subject to the same laws as Eire would be asking for trouble; to avoid it would mean exempting her from them and she would then be spiritually so little a part of Ireland that there would be hardly any point in her remaining in the Republic (since living under a common law is a prerequisite of common nationhood). That is why a united Ireland would not at present be a viable prospect. It would in fact be a disunited Ireland, since it would incorporate into the state more people who did not want to be there, and would consequently cause trouble, than did. Apart from the whole thing being questionable from a democratic point of view, for a state to be united politically but not in spirit – without which prerequisite unity is in one vitally important sense shambolic – is a recipe for ill-feeling and ultimately disaster. The optimistic belief of some Irish people that the North could be integrated with the South, against the wishes of the former’s population, without too much pain on both sides is not one anybody should be in a hurry to test. It is a delusion clung to because people are reluctant to abandon their romantic quest for a united Ireland, and which would be more trouble than it’s worth if put into practice. Eire is a beautiful country which enjoys the advantages of being a culturally homogeneous state to which all its citizens are happy to give loyalty and which is free from civil strife. To bring in Ulster would ruin all that. I don’t think it can be right somehow.
When I put these objections to someone once they responded with the argument that for Unionists forced into a united Ireland to react with violence was an extreme position which one ought to be committed to resolving through negotiation. But why would it be wrong for Unionists to use violent methods to protest at the situation, but not wrong to force them against their wishes into citizenship of what to them would effectively be a foreign country? Besides which if one believes a principle to be right, and to be important enough, one ought not to abandon or compromise it, whether on the battlefield or over the negotiating table. And those advocating negotiation surely have some degree of compromise in mind, because otherwise what would be the point of the discussion? Thirdly there is the consideration that merely because a particular way of doing things is wrong (and that is often a matter of opinion, because terrorists – including Loyalist ones - may be acting from understandable motives which we only disapprove of because we don’t happen to share them) does not mean people will be persuaded to abandon it. More often than not, they won’t. If therefore you have put them in position where they are likely to do whatever it is that is harmful and dangerous, you are in for trouble. Discretion, one might say pragmatism, is often the better part of moral valour.
It is also worth stressing that if, instead of deciding to stand and fight, Unionists left Ulster en masse in the event of the North becoming part of the Republic this, apart from the overcrowding and sectarian problems it might cause in the UK, would result in serious depopulation in Ulster itself and thus not enough people to work the industrial infrastructure that the South would love to get its hands on.
Israel had its origin in the understandable desire of European Jews, following the atrocities of the Nazis - which surpassed any persecution they had previously experienced both in scale and awfulness - for a safe haven, and, where the creation of the new state was supported by Western powers, revulsion against those atrocities, which led to widespread sympathy towards the Jews and a desire that they should be protected. Unfortunately, these feelings led to them and their supporters completely disregarding the sentiments of the Arabs, at that time a majority in Palestine. The consequences of this have been terrorism, both in the region itself and internationally, and on occasions war in the region (which in 1973 appears to have come close to nuclear conflict between the superpowers, potentially threatening a much larger number of people than constitute the population of Israel), to preserve or to overturn the status quo created in 1948.
It has been said that the Palestinians have no-one to blame but themselves for the situation because they should have accepted the partition of Palestine when it was proposed. This however is not a reasonable line to take. Just ask British people, for example, how they would feel if what was effectively a foreign people (in the Palestinian case they were diaspora Jews, albeit in alliance with native-born Israelis) decided to annexe half of Britain, and when they naturally objected to this the result was a war leading to them losing the whole of the country, and when they protested about that were told that they should have given up the half when they had the chance. Land also has a position of crucial importance of land in Arab thinking, and the Arabs, any more than Jews or Anglo-Saxons or blacks, cannot help being a distinct people with their own particular way of looking at the world. To overturn the position and rights of the majority – jointly with its sovereignty, in its effect, since the minority were mostly coming in from elsewhere rather than native-born – simply because the minority have suffered is not an adequate excuse. Nor is the fact that the ancestors of the minority (all of it) lived in the territory in question thousands of years ago. And adding together two wrong reasons for doing something does not create a right reason to do it. Because the reasons for the establishment of Israel were flawed in the first place, the partition should not have been insisted upon. And there is a potential for establishing a precedent whose effects would be highly destabilising if it were adopted in other cases (it might never be, but that is irrelevant since for one thing we can’t be sure that would be so); because it overturns the whole basis on which a state should be created and recognised.
If the Jewish people had suffered a massive and traumatic shock because of Hitler, so too did the Palestinians, with whom other Arabs sympathise to a greater or lesser extent, because of the creation of Israel. The view of many Arabs is not that the Holocaust wasn’t a terrible thing, rather that they shouldn’t have to suffer because of it. The reason why Schindler’s List is not shown in Lebanon is not necessarily that they believe the Holocaust didn’t happen or that it doesn’t matter, such as that by highlighting its awfulness the film could result in less attention being given by comparison to Arab sufferings. It is important to appreciate that Jews and Arabs were coexisting quite happily in Palestine until large-scale Jewish immigration began after the First World War and started to change the character of the region in ways that were not acceptable to the majority. Zionism was not, in one sense, racist, though the subsequent treatment of the Palestinians frequenty was; it was motivated by a desire to protect a people from any recurrence of the persecution they had so often suffered in the past, rather than specifically to destroy another. But it did represent a selfish, if understandable, desire on the part of some to achieve a particular goal regardless of how others might feel and be affected. The Jews arguably had a poorer excuse for occupying Palestine than the Vikings and Saxons for settling in Britain, which resulted in a change in the character of the nation that in the first instance was unwelcome to the indigenous population as well as accompanied by much bloodshed and pillage. What drove the Germanic and Scandinavian invaders was a population explosion in northern Europe, which resulted in pressure on resources forcing a westward migration. They were impelled by economic necessity, whereas the Israelis in 1946-8 were not acting objectively because the tremendous shock the Jewish people had received as a result of the Holocaust had impaired the judgement of some of them. It would have been better to have capitalised on the widespread sympathy which existed for Jews after 1945 to ensure better treatment for them in the nations of Europe. There would, after the revelations of what had been done under Hitler, have been a considerable mood in favour of protecting them from further oppression. You would perhaps have had political correctness forty years before you in fact did, but the overall consequences may well have been less damaging for the world. Instead, there took place the creation of what in some ways could be called a racist state – for the reasons why it was created, you were and are infinitely more likely to become a citizen of it if you were/are a Jew. And which in order to survive in an environment where its foundation had (understandably) aroused the hostility of its neighbours it needed to elect leaders, some of them former terrorists, who were racialist in that they were virtually indifferent to the sufferings of non-Jews, whether Arabs or Westerners who died because of their countries’ support for Israel - Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Netanyahu – because that kind of person (ruthless and bloody-minded) is often, unfortunately, the one most effective at vigorously defending the nation from its enemies. And which introduced a dangerous new factor into world affairs. The refugees from Hitler might perhaps have gone to Britain instead; there was undoubtedly anti-Semitism there, but this wasn’t helped by the activities of Jewish terrorists fighting for the creation of Israel (such as hanging British soldiers and then booby-trapping the bodies). There was a strong element of hypocrisy involved in the creation of Israel and her subsequent attitudes towards the world community from whom she wanted financial, military, and economic aid where necessary, protesting indignantly if she didn’t get it. What she was effectively saying was, we don’t want to be part of you because you’re potentially racist and might persecute us but we do, by the way, expect your support OK?
It is claimed by some that there is a religious justification for allowing the creation of the modern state of Israel - the return of the Jewish people to their national home - and thus also for keeping it in being, because it is foretold on occasions in the Bible and therefore is in line with God’s purposes. But of course the Bible, in some respects at least, is open to more than one interpretation – especially when it conflicts with common sense – and I suspect that although there must be those who honestly believe the passages in question to have the meaning they ascribe to them, they are nonetheless used by those who are not really religious or follow a debased and extremist form of Christianity to lend justification to the political aim of preserving Israel.
The fact that most of world Jewry doesn’t live in Israel rather knocks the argument on the head. Moreover, as all Christians appreciate, God’s purpose in Biblical times was to work, initially through a particular people (who therefore, logically, had to be protected from aggression and so permitted something akin to nationhood if it assisted them in defending themselves), in a particular part of the world for the the ultimate moral and spiritual redemption, through Jesus Christ, who as an extension of God’s previous modus operandi was in his earthly form a Jew, of all people. The focus shifted from that particular race when Christian missionaries – at first all Jews, but then anyone who responded to the call – began carrying the Gospel all over the world. There is therefore no reason why God should now be more concerned with the survival of the political entity of Israel than he should that of the Federated States of Micronesia, or Guatemala, or Poland, or Great Britain, unless the idea is that the wishes of Jews are more important, at any time in history, than those of other people; the latter would essentially be a racist belief, which I don’t think God is guilty of somehow. The fact that at a certain time in the past a people occupied a particular area does not mean they should be permitted to reoccupy it now, if in the intervening period another has come to be dominant there, things having changed. To establish the principle that they should would mean that an entire population could be displaced, with shattering economic, political and psychological consequences, for merely legal reasons; imagine the disastrous precedent that would be set. Once the situation has changed, the new status quo has to be accepted. If, at some future date, it is rejected that too will have to be accepted, by the same token. To those who object that this makes nonsense of the whole principle, the best reply is that it is never forsaken except at great cost; otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point in it.
Had those in the West who encouraged the establishment of the new state known what it would lead to, it is unlikely that they would have acted as they did. It introduced a dangerous new factor into the equation of world politics. As already noted, it has been a major source of tension both in the Middle East itself and internationally, on one occasion possibly risking nuclear war. Terrorism by the PLO has over many years resulted in the deaths of many people, including innocent Westerners who died, directly or indirectly, because their countries were seen as Israel's lackeys.
A motion in the United Nations equating Zionism with racism was defeated. This was done out of pragmatism as much as anything else, since to have accepted it would have undermined the whole policy, whether motivated by principle or political expediency, of preserving the state of Israel – something the world has no real option but to do, as I will argue below. Nonetheless, there are important lessons to be learned from the whole business.
There is a difference, however, between saying that something was wrong at the time it was done, and one would have stopped it had one been around then and had the necessary political power, and saying its consequences should be reversed now. Once a particular ethnic group has become the majority in a particular area we have to accept that its wishes should be paramount there and the status of the territory defined according to them; as soon as we reject this principle, whatever the circumstances in which we do so, that of democracy – and by extension sovereignty, if you accept all that I’m saying here - has already been compromised. We must adhere to it even if the majority is a small one and has been created by questionable means (or where would we draw the line?). Of course, the amount of time that has passed since Israel, say, was created - fifty years - is a lot less than the period since Elizabeth I forcibly colonised the north of Ireland, or since the last of the migrations which contributed to the formation of the English people took place. But the elapse of time involved is irrelevant if it is the principle that the majority's will should determine the political status of a community, and the principle is absolute. And it has to be absolute, for its abandonment in any one case would lead to its being abandoned in many others too, since the moral difference between a majority and a majority engineered by dubious means is not always appreciated either by politicians or public. This means that Palestinian terrorism, though inevitable as long as the present oppression and deprivation continues, is wrong if its objective is the destruction of Israel, even though Jerusalem’s behaviour leaves many Palestinians thinking they are left with no other option (regardless of whether they would dismantle Israel anyway). The Arabs have no choice but to pragmatically accept Israel’s existence, hard as this is for them. But although the actions of the Zionists in creating Israel may have been less justified than those of the Vikings and Saxons in mediaeval times, they were nonetheless understandable, given the traumatic experiences of European Jewry under Hitler, which came on top of the thousands of years of anti-Semitism that had already passed. Our anger at the present situation should be tempered by an appreciation of this, in the interests of eliminating hatred and bitterness from the equation. Most of Israel’s population was probably born after 1948, and knows no other home, no other nationhood. The angry remark by an Israeli woman during one heated discussion on the matter that to deny Israel’s right to be would amount effectively, for her, to apologising for having been born was not far wrong.
If we accept Ulster’s right to choose her own destiny we must also accept Israel’s right to exist. What we concede with respect to the one has to conceded with respect to the other. Both Ulster and Israel have had legitimacy conferred on them by time and by pragmatism, whatever the circumstances of their creations.

Once we are satisfied that a nation has the right to exist, our concern is with how it should behave towards other nations. The issue is one of what happens when things for some reason go wrong. When is a country, or group of countries, justified in attempting to invade another country, or group of countries, thus risking war to prevent or reverse the invasion – as well as, perhaps, imposing on the conquered a system of government which is alien to them and therefore a cause of unhappiness?
The most morally acceptable reason is to try to change a nation’s
domestic political arrangements in the sincere belief that they are unjust; the idea is that you’re actually doing it a favour. This may or may not be seen as the motive behind the wars waged by Revolutionary France against her neighbours from 1793, before Napoleon took over after which the guiding spirit was a combination of high-minded ideals and one man’s megalomania. One could also see it as a dangerous fanaticism, involving a vicious hatred towards the representatives of tradition and established order (though the revolutionaries were also trying to protect their own achievements). That France’s actions were at best misguided is amply proven by the bloodshed and disruption which they caused for twenty-two years. Though the citizens of the rest of Europe probably regarded the social and political system under which they lived as oppressive and unjust, they still resisted the French for patriotic reasons. So even where the motive undoubtedly is benevolent (there may also be economic calculations involved, but if these factors did not apply intervention might still be urged for humanitarian reasons) that does not mean that military intervention in another country’s affairs is wise. Is the West, making use of its particularly powerful position, or the international community right to invade somewhere purely for what it considers altruistic motives, as in for example Kosovo and Bosnia? We may believe we are liberating an oppressed majority and if this is true – and, in accordance with all good ethics, known to be true - there can be no objection to the invasion from a moral point of view, though we would need to plan very carefully for what happens after victory, as the Iraq fiasco shows. But apart from the practical costs in terms of money, logistics and personnel – especially if there were other cases in which one wanted to do it, and one did not want to seem discriminatory – could we actually be sure the majority actually did support the invasion? The question is rendered topical at the time of writing (summer 2011) by current events in Libya. It might be acidly observed that such a thing would not be possible under Colonel Gaddafi’s regime; but if an opinion poll were taken of Libyan citizens, and there was no reason to suppose it was inaccurate, it might show that those who still supported Gaddafi were in an actual numerical majority, in which case our intervening to overthrow the regime (or intervening at all, given the disruption and killing which intervention itself can cause) is undemocratic – and particularly dubious when we ourselves live under what we claim is democracy and are constantly proclaiming its virtues. There could simply be enough dissatisfied people to make enough fuss (justly or otherwise) to seriously disrupt political stability within the nation, without being representative of majority opinion. The very fact that an accurate opinion poll would not be possible, even in stable conditions, highlights the dangers of making assumptions that might not be justified and therefore doing things which are, or ought to be seen as, contrary to both natural and international law. The same objections apply to the Iraq War of 2003; there was no convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein, repugnant though he was, represented an actual threat to the security of the West or the world in general and the reasons why Britain and America decided to invade him remain to some extent a mystery.
Where the oppressed are known to be a minority, yet intervention is still demanded, it is even more questionable. Of course no-one is saying that it is right to persecute minorities, and that governments should escape condemnation for doing so. The question is how far that condemnation can be taken. If the wellbeing of a minority is considered sufficient reason for external powers to take the step of invading a country, and thus infringing its sovereignty (the foremost concern of any state must be its external security), then this effectively negates the principle of democracy. It would be an attack on both democracy and sovereignty, since the latter ought to reside in the wishes of the people even if it doesn’t. Since most if not all countries have a persecuted minority a very dangerous precedent might be set, leading to international instability; or, to avoid that instability, some countries would be invaded and not others, leading to charges of hypocrisy and favouritism. The UN may therefore have been right in not intervening in Rwanda. A national leader arrested and tried for alleged war crimes in an international court such as that at The Hague, and not on their own territory, undermines the concept of national independence when nationalism is needed as a counterweight to unitary internationalist tendencies that might, though well-intended, lead to a loss of liberty (as with the European Union). By extension from all this, the principle that international recognition should only be granted to a state if it gives guarantees that minorities will be protected is wrong, whatever its humanitarian motive.
What of situations where a country is known to have an oppressed majority? The fact is that in no non-democratic state is it clear how many people support the regime and how many don’t. But for the sake of argument, let us assume that a totalitarian state (meaning a state that is in effect totalitarian even if claiming to be democratic) is not supported by the majority of its citizens. Is it then right for other countries to invade it? Yes, but apart from the practical considerations, already mentioned, one would have to apply the principle across the board, as we would if it was minorities we were defending. To invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ought also to have meant invading certain other totalitarian states as well. (The principal argument for the war advanced by George W Bush and Tony Blair was that Saddam’s (in fact non-existent) WMDs posed a threat to world peace, but they certainly cited Iraqi domestic politics as an additional factor in support of their war, and the brutality and autocracy of the regime was one reason why some British MPs, such as Ann Clwyd, voted with the government when the issue finally came before parliament). Since North Korea was ruled out because the WMD it either had or was developing would have meant we’d be in danger of provoking a nuclear war, and Iran (though this was before President Ahmedinnajad’s behaviour called into question the belief that that country was a democracy) because it would have inflamed world Muslim opinion especially in the tense climate following 9/11, why not Burma or Zimbabwe where neither of those factors applied? Yet in the end Burma and Zimbabwe were left alone. To say “well, we can’t afford to invade all of them but we ought to invade at least one, so we’ll go for Saddam” would be an arbitrary and rather slapdash way of conducting international politics. And set a bad example in view of the lasting problems that war can cause.
We declared war on Hitler because of his foreign not his domestic policies; and that I believe was the correct approach. Anything else would have established too dangerous a precedent and on an overall, international scale done more harm than good. The persecution of the Jews, and other people who Hitler saw as non-Aryan or who were considered a threat to his regime, began in Germany itself before the Second World War broke out and before systematic genocide (made possible by the commencement of hostilities, which in Hitler’s view meant that no holds were barred) started. But it did not in itself justify declaring war on Germany. What changed the situation was that Hitler began invading other countries in his desire to destroy European Jewry, to establish German economic dominance and to create Lebensraum in the East for an expanding population. Once this was done, any legal and moral case against punishing the atrocities fell apart. The Jews and other “undesirables” who Hitler killed were citizens of the occupied countries and thus victims of unwarranted aggression. It followed from that that anything he did to them, especially if it was morally wicked, had no proper authorization since he should not have been there in the first place. There was every justification in bringing the Nazis to account under international law for their crimes. There is nothing wrong in deriving satisfaction from having an excuse do what one ought to want to do, even if, equally, legal and even moral principles should previously have constrained one.
War, invasion and punitive raids are justified if for one, or more, of the following purposes:
(1) To neutralise a country which has been carrying out aggression against its neighbours, or oneself, and has not been dissuaded by reason or negotiation. Sometimes if the enemy is particularly strong only conquest and invasion can deal with the threat.
(2) To protect vital interests. This explains and justifies (4) on some occasions.
(3) To liberate territory which has been unfairly annexed.
(4) To deal with state-sponsored terrorism.
To neutralise a country which has been carrying out aggression against its neighbours, or oneself, and has not been dissuaded by reason or negotiation. (We are talking here of annexation of territories on a larger scale than Argentina annexed the Falkland Islands in 1982, so the latter case (and others) is dealt with separately). A good example of a power invaded and subjugated for this reason is Nazi Germany. Hitler conquered most of Europe out of revenge (for Germany’s defeat in World War One), racial hatred and extreme nationalism. As regards his country’s legitimate grievances over the Treaty of Versailles, by the 1930s there was already a feeling that she had been unfairly punished for her role in the first conflict and that the treaty needed to be revised. Hitler could have capitalised on this to recover some of the lost territories, rebuild his armed forces to some extent and restored Germany’s pride and standing. And indeed he did, but by exploiting the weakness of Britain and France to seize what he wanted by force, rather than secure it by negotiation; going much further than the mere restoration of Germany’s rightful borders. His actions were not excusable. Nor for example were those of the Romans, who simply wanted to be the most powerful force in the known world, although they were opposed less successfully until they started to fall apart from within. In these cases there is little doubt in the minds of sensible people that war is justified. It is a valid question whether the major powers are excused in trying to be so dominant because if they weren’t they would be dominated. However, since domination can all too easily lead to oppression, and oppression is an undesirable thing whoever its purpose, our aim should be to at least attempt to create a balance of forces preserved by mutual understanding, tolerance and common sense, however difficult this might be in practice.
Countries may respond to aggression, or commit it, in order to assert their right to national self-determination, resisting or pre-empting attempts at invasion. The Second World War allies were justified in invading Germany, as I believe those in the Gulf War of 1990-91 were in invading Iraq. Where, under a certain regime, a nation has been pursuing a particularly aggressive policy towards its neighbours, to the extent of creating a serious threat to world peace, and war is necessary in order to remove the problem, we may be excused in invading and occupying that nation, and overthrowing its government, once it has been defeated. The offending regime may be resilient enough to recover from its defeat and thus launch new attacks, thus bringing about a reoccurrence of the problem.
To protect vital interests. There are two cases in point which may be cited. The first is the 1991 Gulf War fought by the West and its allies in the Arab world to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, which it had invaded the previous year. At the time, some people objected to the whole principle of declaring war on Saddam Hussein for this reason. On a TV news programme one distinguished academic, Professor Noam Chomsky, asked why the West was going to war against Iraq but not Indonesia (because of the latter's policy towards East Timor, to which it was then refusing to grant independence). The reason should be clear. There are plenty of different cases around the world where one country is threatening another, and the West - along with everyone else - simply does not have the time or the resources to get involved in all of them. If, then, we are to be selective, how do we decide when to be involved and when not to? The answer is that we only have a right to intervene when our own interests are threatened. It is precisely this which left-wing critics object to; they complain that our motives are selfish rather than altruistic. It was alleged, probably with justification, that the main reason for our concern with the matter was a desire to protect our oil supplies. But if we got involved out of philanthropy we would be accused of laying down the law, making a dubious assertion of moral superiority and imposing our own values on those of others. Critics of "imperialist" foreign policies seem to be schizophrenic here. Even if our motives were indeed more to do with self-interest than altruism, that does not mean it was right to oppose our actions in 1991.
The danger to our vital interests was, I would suggest, the only legitimate reason for our getting involved, though there were certain other motives, such as standing up for Kuwaiti independence, which would have been commendable even if insufficient. For do we not have a right to protect those interests? If Western society were denied its oil supplies, the financial and other effects would be devastating, especially given its complex nature (one respect in which it is different from - as opposed to superior, or inferior to - other societies). They would involve a major reduction in the quality of life and perhaps even its loss on a large scale. Arab and Western critics of the Gulf War and other examples of Western "imperialism" see the West as a monolithic and aggressive threat to the liberty of the rest of the world. Without the oil, however, it would not merely cease to be such a threat, assuming that it is one; it would be totally crippled. I feel we should be making more use of renewable sources of energy, as opposed to nuclear or fossil fuels - and the fact that conflicts can break out over oil is another good reason for relying less on it - but the socio-economic transformation such a shift would involve could not take place overnight without causing massive disruption. In the long run, whatever the difficulties in the way of such a solution, the answer is to promote renewable energy so that all nations are using it and thus there is no scope for the jealousies, rivalries and disparities which cause such trouble in the world. It is resented when the nation defending its interests is a wealthy and powerful one. But if its aim is to retain its prosperity then that is forgiveable – the bigger they are the harder to fall, and it knows that. In the case of 1990-91 the likelihood was not so much that Saddam would cut off the supply of oil to the West from the Kuwaiti wells (which the war caused him to try to do anyway, by setting fire to them) as that he might set a price for it which it did not like. However it was advisable for the West to show its support for the rulers of the Gulf States, who had been its allies in the past, by defending them in their hour of need (it should be borne in mind that after Saddam had already taken the step of invading Kuwait, which caused considerable alarm and concern around the world, people could have been forgiven for thinking – perhaps with good reason – that he would also go for Saudi Arabia). The alliance was partly for economic benefits – the mutual advantage to be gained from trading in the oil – and partly because the Gulf States acted as a bulwark against powers in the region (largely Iran) which were potentially hostile to the West and to its interests there (Iran’s behaviour under Ayatollah Khomeini had hardly served to convince it that her intentions towards it were benign). Saddam himself could have been that bulwark, but his action in August 1990 made him seem altogether dangerous and a loose cannon, with whom it was better not to have anything to do. In a general sense, if you do not support your allies of long standing they – or others - may not support you in the future when you might have need of their assistance. This need to maintain general credibility with them can be counted as vital interests.
In some circumstances, economic considerations can excuse the invasion and occupation of one country by another. Suppose a Middle Eastern power were to cut off the West's oil supplies. The effect may not be in terms of loss of liberty, and it may be indirect rather than direct, but this does not render it any less serious. This is one case where, even if the offending power had a right to defend its own territory, the interests of the countries who would be adversely affected by its move would excuse them violating that right. For according to natural justice, at any rate, a man does have an excuse to break into a house if he is starving and there is food - which the owners of the house have refused him - to be found there which is not available anywhere else.
Thirdly, even if such actions as the West's in 1990-91 are not altruistic in their motivation they may nevertheless have a beneficial effect upon the territories in question and indeed the world generally. Any reverse suffered by powers such as Saddam's Iraq, which are despotic, brutal, and aggressive in their relations with their neighbours, is surely a positive thing. Inhabitants of a country which has been invaded by an oppressive regime will generally not complain about the motives of those countries which by military force expel the invaders, as long as the problem is got rid of! It may be that the country's normal rulers are not much better than the occupying power, but this might not always be the case (as arguably it was in Kuwait); besides, Saddam's ambitions potentially affected millions of people in many other countries too. If one takes the view that Kuwait's rulers were every bit as bad as he, then at best it makes little difference whether the West should have opened hostilities, and so excuses it doing so where its own interests are at stake.
By the criteria of protecting vital interests the 1990-91 Gulf War was therefore excusable; that of 2003 not.
Vital interests can include one’s reputation and standing; look weak by not retaliating forcefully to an attack and you will encourage further attacks (this means that in effect the issue is really the same as when a nation’s physical safety and political integrity are threatened). This is regardless of whether the enemy operates by means of terrorism or conventional military activity, and of whether the terrorism is state-sponsored or decentralised. By this standard America was right to respond to the 9/11 atrocities by invading Afghanistan, whose government was sheltering their perpetrator and refusing to give him up. Since Islamic terrorism had proved itself willing, and in the right circumstances capable, of inflicting such a devastating blow against her she was right to declare a “war on terror” against it; and that war would inevitably be an international one because the enemy against which it was directed was itself international. There is little point in objecting to a war on terror unless you actually approve of the terrorism or at least are not prepared to do anything about it, and that’s surely inexcusable even if one concedes that some of the terrorists’ grievances are understandable. There was a “war on terror” against the IRA for the best part of thirty years, and against the PLO during the 1970s and 80s, following the Munich Olympics massacre (which inaugurated the whole business by firing the opening salvo). No-one condemns that, unless they are seriously misguided or, in some cases, actually in sympathy with the enemy (which they might not be if they or a loved one suffered, intentionally or otherwise, from an al-Qaeda, IRA or Red Brigade atrocity).
In 1982 Britain had to respond with military force to Argentina’s annexation of the Falkland Islands as otherwise her reputation and self-respect would have suffered disastrously and it would have looked like giving in to dictators – for Argentina at that time was a brutal dictatorship, even if she would probably have given the islanders the opportunity of being expelled and only have mistreated them if they’d stayed.
To liberate territory that has been wrongly annexed. The territory could be a whole nation or just a part of one. If just a part the action is still wrong, not least because it could lead to more being seized, as the aggressor grows more confident, until the whole nation is annexed; as was all too obviously shown by Hitler’s progression from taking the Sudetenland to grabbing the whole of Czechoslovakia (and then going on to invade other countries).
Where the annexation is not clearly just a case of brute power politics, what decides ownership of a territory, and perhaps in some cases justifies its taking by force? Geographical proximity cannot be that factor because if it was, Britain would have the right to invade France, or France the Channel Islands, just because it was next to it/them. The crucial factor must be what the people in the territory in question think. If they want to be annexed then the mother country can let them go without losing face. The matter hinges on whether it is a case of national self-determination, unless the annexation would be damaging in some way to the main part of the nation by weakening its economic and military position, in other words did not fulfil the utilitarian criteria because it adversely affected more people than it benefited. By the same token the annexation would be excusable if it benefited the majority within the annexing nation in some essential way, though if there was a serious conflict of interest negotiation and thus some element of compromise would be essential and justified, since we would be talking about a dispute between two sovereign states, in which either risks suffering damage to its interests, rather than an attempt to subvert the rights of the majority within one or the other.
The war fought by Britain against Argentina for possession of the Falklands is a controversial case. Critics of the Thatcher administration, at home and abroad, condemned its action in responding to the Argentine occupation of the islands by sending a task force to liberate it as imperialism. Although a jingoistic spirit may well have motivated many of those who enthusiastically prosecuted the war, there were ultimately sound reasons for doing so which had nothing to do with mere national ego. As we have observed, geographical proximity ought not in itself to be a factor in these matters. Nor should economics have entered into the calculation, although they did to some extent because of the presence of oil in the area. Economic considerations were not so important here as to come before national self-determination, and self-respect, whichever side one was on in the conflict, in considering the matter because the actual survival of neither Britain nor Argentina as sovereign states depended on the oil however much an asset it would have been to both.
The legal status of the islands is a different matter. By this criteria, Argentina’s claim to them is actually very weak. Argentina did not actually exist until 1810 (when she was called the United Provinces), by which point various other countries had staked their own claims at one time or another. These were France (who is not much interested in the islands today, although she opposed Britain’s action to retain them in 1982); Spain (from whom Argentina was now independent); and Britain, which actually seems to have been the first to male a landing there. In any case, even the law should not come before democracy and self-determination, unless we believe it is right purely because it is the law, a dangerous notion if it is actually wrong. Had a majority of people in the Falkland Islands wished to be part of Argentina, it would have been unjust for Britain to maintain possession of the territory by force (and it is unlikely she would have gone to all the bother). On the other hand, had they wished to remain British, as was actually the case, it would have been wrong for Argentina to forcibly reclaim the islands even if she could be regarded as the rightful owner.
Those unsympathetic towards Britain's possession of the islands wonder why the islanders do not, if they regard themselves as British rather than Argentinian, go to live in Britain (and thus remove the cause of the problem, if it is the rights of the island's inhabitants rather than any selfish political or economic motive which explains why she has not surrendered them). The answer is that they have a certain independent spirit while retaining an unshakeable affection towards their mother country. If there is deemed to be anything wrong with this, it might be pointed out in response that many members of Britain's ethnic minorities declare that they are proud, and feel a sense of loyalty towards, both their British and their Asian or Afro-Caribbean roots. Left-wing political activists (who are generally the most strident opponents of imperialism) do not object to this and indeed view it as something positive. To take such an attitude in the case of ethnic minorities in Britain itself but not in that of the Falkland Islanders is hypocritical.
The principle of national self-determination and the need for Britain to preserve its self-respect are not affected by the smallness of the territory we’re concerned with here and its population. It would, of course, have been better if the war had not been necessary at all, because then no-one on either side would have been killed. Criticism of Margaret Thatcher should rest upon the fact that Argentina was allowed to invade the islands in the first place, rather than that we declared war on her when she did. Even here, however, there are extenuating circumstances. The Falkland Islands, being a very small territory and geographically remote from London, are the kind of thing that tends to be forgotten about when there are plenty of other issues demanding one's attention, even though they are important if one values the cause of self-determination. It is another case of the principles involved in the matter being just as important, perhaps more so, than its practical aspects. Of course it is possible that the practical considerations might outweigh the others some day, if it simply became economically impossible for Britain to maintain a presence in the islands. If that should happen, and Argentina is ruled by a peaceably-inclined civilian government, it would make sense to hand them over. If it is not, the islanders should be given the opportunity of evacuating to Britain (and can be justly blamed for the consequences to themselves if they do not take it). But there is a difference between all the justifications given above for the Falklands being British and "imperialism".
As stated above Britain would also have suffered loss of self-respect if she had not reacted forcefully to the Argentine invasion; her standing in the eyes of the world, and thus her interests, would have suffered (don’t tell me that being prepared to fight your corner, or not to be, doesn’t make a difference to the way people see you). Ultimately practical considerations were a factor quite as much as prestige, albeit indirectly.

Nations can commit aggression purely out of imperialism, a desire to aggrandise themselves for the sake of prestige, or greed for an area's economic resources. This has certainly happened a lot in the past; it is never justified, nowadays at any rate, except in the case of unclaimed areas which have no indigenuous population. Where people actually do not mind it or even welcome it, though nowadays this is rarely the case, there is no point in the world community objecting unless peoples other than those in the region itself may be adversely affected. If the invading nation has demonstrated a capacity for aggressive behaviour in the past, and its annexation of the territory could give it a strategic advantage which would be valuable in the acquisition of further territories, whose inhabitants probably would object, then its action should be resisted.
Sometimes, the invader may have been invited in. An area may wish to be incorporated into a different political unit from that which it currently belongs to. This makes the annexation, if carried out peacefully, morally acceptable in itself. Since it would be in line with national self-determination, it cannot be opposed unless there is any reason to suspect the invading power intends to use the territory as a springboard for further conquests which would be unjustified (because then the danger to the interests of other nations in the area would outweigh the benefits to those who had their national aspirations satisfied).
To deal with state-sponsored terrorism. If a country, any country, is attacked by terrorism in any way it has to respond. A case in point is the US raid on Libya in April 1986 in response to the Berlin disco bombing. The moot point is whether it was the Libyans who were really responsible for the atrocity; if not, then the Americans were guilty of manslaughter (for people were killed in their attack, among them Gaddafi’s adopted daughter). If they were, then President Reagan had little option but to do what he did. Economic sanctions might have been applied instead, but they don’t always have the desired effect, and when one needs to avenge something as serious as murder one does not choose a method of doing so which may fail to achieve its desired result. Certainly, sanctions against Saddam Hussein after 1990-91 failed to be truly effective.
As has already been observed, terrorism as opposed to the seemingly more honourable path of conventional warfare is the only way some countries can retaliate against what they see, maybe correctly, as Western imperialism. That does not make the terrorism justified. As when it is domestic rather than international, it is perhaps not so much right as inevitable; less powerful Middle Eastern countries may feel they will become, or be seen to be, weak if they do not retaliate somehow, the principle being essentially the same that motivates the West to use military force against state-sponsored terrorism despite her being so much more powerful. But this last point begs the question. However it has behaved in the past the West still has the right to protect itself – and so avoid loss of life - against aggression in whatever form (terrorism counting as a form of aggression), because failure to do so would only encourage further attacks. Any nation, large or small, weak or powerful, would do the same. If Libya was guilty of the Berlin bombing then killing Gadaffi, who had done nothing, with his bombastic anti-Western speeches and posturing, the behaviour of his diplomats in Britain - which resulted in the death of WPC Fletcher - and his general encouragement of hatred towards the West, to reduce suspicion that he might be capable of inciting such crimes, and as the nation's leader was clearly more responsible than any other person for its actions, was as just and as sensible a way of retaliating as any other in the absence of a suitable alternative target. At the risk of seeming insensitive, there is of course bound to be the possibility, at any rate, of collateral damage.
The question remains as to whether it was right to bomb Gaddafi even if he hadn’t been responsible for the Berlin bombing, using the latter as an excuse, if it stopped him carrying out more terrorism. The issue ought not really to arise because if the CIA and other intelligence services had been doing their job properly, we would have known whether he had or had not been responsible for a particular atrocity. If he had not then he should not have been targeted. If he had then he should have been targeted, or at least warned of the consequences if he repeated the atrocity. But the matter leads us to ask whether in general terms, bearing in mind the principle that someone should be punished for a crime they are known to have committed and not for any other, doing something under false pretences is excusable if it prevents large-scale loss of life. My belief is that it is, though there are no other circumstances in which it ought to be permitted.
By the principle of self-defence the US invasion of Afghanistan following the New York atrocities of September 2001 was also permissible (if the Taliban, the country’s fundamentalist Muslim ruling regime, were harbouring Osama bin Laden while he planned the attacks, and subsequently, and refused to hand him over then the terrorism was effectively state-sponsored). Such a major blow against the American state, which could have left it entirely defenceless if the White House or Capitol building had been hit (and perhaps destroyed) as well as the Pentagon and World Trade Centre, was carried out in a particularly chilling manner and resulted in greater loss of life than any other terrorist atrocity in history could hardly have merited anything other than an extremely vigorous response! Those who object to that response (including, it has to be admitted, some survivors of 9/11) are implying that the matter should have been resolved by negotiation instead, even though that negotiation could have taken years - with no certainty of a satisfactory outcome – during which the crime would have remained unpunished, and America consequently seemed weak, as a result. Much depends on whether, as some have claimed, the Taliban were actually on the point of handing over Osama bin Laden, and there was some more complex reason or combination of reasons (one being the desire to secure a contract for US firms to build a pipeline through the country) for the invasion. Like all left-wing conspiracy theories this is impossible to entirely prove or disprove but it is most unlikely that, given the hideous nature of the 9/11 attacks and their implications, that it was all about an oil pipeline! If we don’t know that the Taliban were about to surrender bin Laden, whether or not it was actually the case, then we can’t be blamed for concluding the US and her allies did have an excuse for the invasion. There is a further argument in support of it, namely that America after 9/11, for all the reasons that that business was so horrific and shattering, needed a catharsis – to take it out on someone who wasn’t very nice and deserved to be clobbered – and that it was humanly impossible to expect her not to invade somewhere or other. Perhaps only an American, though maybe not a liberal American, could be certain, and I am not one. You might also have to be a qualified psychologist and I’m not that either. We must therefore reserve judgement, but there is one conclusion we can come to, namely that the war would still not be justified if it was done purely out of revenge. The thing is, though, that a war can be started, an invasion carried out, for reasons both of revenge and self-defence and where this happens it is the latter which makes all the difference. Retaliation is necessary, for both weak and powerful nations, to show you can’t be pushed around and if you invade the offending nation and topple its government out of revenge you are also protecting yourself. Hence, the war is not wrong in itself but is done partly in the wrong spirit. But for practical and moral reasons, namely the invading nation’s need and right to defend itself, the distinction has to be ignored. The invasion would be justified even if the government of the invaded country, who had carried out the act that provoked the invasion, were supported by the majority of its people as was not the case with Afghanistan and the Taliban. If we denied that, we would be putting the right of one country to democracy before the other’s right to survival (without which she would not be in a position to debate whether or not she or anyone else ought to be democratic). As it is, the Taliban was not supported by most Afghans, who found it oppressive, and this is one further justification for the invasion. But to have permitted it for that reason, assuming that the motive of revenge can be separated entirely from the need for self-defence and America only acted from the former, would set a dangerous precedent. A war started entirely out of revenge could be repeated with less beneficial results; the beneficial ones would be a purely accidental outcome anyway. But a war only for revenge would have had to have started because of something like a verbal insult, with no accompanying physical harm or threat of it, and it’s doubtful anyone would go to all the bother, even if the thought of paying the perpetrator back might still give satisfaction.

In the past, wars when not simply about power were over religion or dynastic claims. The latter are no longer a factor. But religion is, though not in the same way that it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A dangerous gulf is growing up between the West and Islam, made worse by the radical element within the latter which is embodied in groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In religious wars, the motive is either to defend the right to practise a religion or to force people to convert to it. The former motive is defensible as it comes into the category of defending essential freedoms; apart from the fact that an occupying power may have been compromising a country’s rights by invading it in the first place, it may interefere with the native culture, including the religion. By extension, the defending power is itself justified in conquering its enemies and occupying them if that is the only way to neutralise them as a force and so protect its way of life. But this demonstrates how high the stakes can be – even if, these days, an Islamic power is less able to conquer a Western one because of disparities in wealth and military strength – and therefore the need to avoid religious wars, especially if they aren’t necessary. I have already set out the alternative path to violent conflict with the West which militant Muslims should take.

A final question which should be considered is that of what happens when, wars having been fought and won, the international community sits in judgement over the defeated. How should the vanquished be treated if they are thought to have committed war crimes? The Nuremberg Trials are the most famous case in point. The principle of trying people for committing crimes against humanity is not of course wrong. What I have against the trials is that (a) there should have been a judge from the defeated nation and (b) they should have been held on neutral territory. That neither of these criteria was met implies that Germany was uniquely bad, to the extent that the normal considerations of international law and etiquette did not apply to her, and that everyone else was necessarily better - a dubious principle. The nations who sat in judgement on her were essentially behaving as triumphant victors, and since it is always the winning side who writes the history and delivers the verdict their objectivity and reliability thus come under question. Their actions could all too easily be seen as vengefulness, with or without justification. Plus a German could have been able to usefully shed light on why someone in the 1930s and 40s might have been disposed to support the Nazis and participate in their government, even if only out of fear of the consequences of dissent; and doing so was surely an essential part of the court's job in this matter.

Social Issues

All those in their right mind regard life as sacrosanct. Most of us would take this to mean that we shouldn’t kill another person without a very good reason. When that is exactly what has happened, with no extenuating circumstances, what ought to be society’s response? Are we excused in supporting what is known as capital punishment – the penalisation of the “capital crime” of murderer by taking the life of the murderer – simply out of revenge for an undoubtedly wrong act? If not, is it then justifiable for other reasons?
The desire for revenge, whether on the part of the victim’s family, say, or on that of the community as a whole (if members of society feel anger and distress on account of an unjust killing I think it is correct to speak of them as wanting “revenge”, even if they themselves weren’t actually harmed and may not even have known the victim) is quite natural and normal, but it needs to be sublimated. The hatred and abuse vented on the culprit, though understandable, is still not very uplifting. Does this need to sublimate mean we should press for life imprisonment rather than execution, even when the former is carried out as humanely as possible, with the condemned person allowed right of appeal and time in which to make psychological preparation for death, including the services of a minister of religion if requested?
Supporters of capital punishment desire it for several reasons:
(1) It deters, or is thought to deter, people from committing murders.
(2) It prevents people in prison for murder from escaping to kill again.
(3) It is only just that whoever takes a life should be executed; by adhering to this principle, so we are emphasising the sanctity of life {this is not the same thing as, and is more noble than, seeking “revenge”}. The seriousness of the penalty is necessary to emphasis the seriousness of the crime.
Misgivings which are frequently voiced about capital punishment by its opponents include the possibility of innocent people being executed and also the effect of the death penalty on terrorists, who might be incited to commit even greater crimes because, by being executed for them, they become in their view martyrs.
As in all other matters the aim should be to go for what, overall, does the greatest amount of good, even if it may also do harm – what preserves life on a greater scale than destroys it. This must be so regardless of whether we are Christians, to whom death is particularly to be feared as it carries with it the risk of eternal damnation if one is not a believer, or non-Christians, who still regard death as something tragic to be avoided even though they don't believe in a Heaven or a Hell. We should include the murderer in this calculation because if they can be induced to repent their crimes they are then exonerated from condemnation and are also able to become a useful member of society.
They may still have to remain in prison for the rest of their lives. The vast majority of the public will be unacquainted with their situation and so could not be sure that they were no longer a danger, with the result that the collective peace of mind would be disturbed if they were released, and to let people off because they had repented might result in a situation where they would pretend to have reformed but had not in fact done so and fully intended to kill again once released – which emphasises that law sometimes operates on the principle of pour encourager les autres rather than individual merit, but in a way which is morally justified. However, both the secularist and the Christian would no doubt consider it a good thing if they did repent. We cannot be sure that they will, though, and if they don't there will have been no justification for our failure to avenge their crimes and by their execution deter possible future murderers. But if we do execute the murderer we are turning the possibility that the risk may ultimately be unjustified into a certainty, because dead people can’t repent.
Some things don’t make much overall difference to the equation and shouldn’t be regarded as contributory factors. Escapes by convicted murderers are thankfully rare, due to the high security which surrounds such prisoners.
Some years ago a British Humanist Association broadsheet against capital punishment argued, not altogether unreasonably, that the death penalty could actually frustrate the course of justice because some members of juries, recoiling at the thought of sending anyone to be executed, would err on the side of leniency and acquit. The BHA’s claim that this has happened in the past cannot automatically be rejected. We can’t say, however, how often it would happen at all, and I suspect it would not be likely in cases where the murderer’s guilt was fairly clear; if there was any doubt, then one is inclined to think they should be acquitted anyway. Most people, even if they had an aversion to the whole idea of capital punishment, would probably allow an unrepentant and clearly wicked murderer - who would deserve it if anyone did, and deserve it more than others – to die, however regrettable it nonetheless was that a life should have to be terminated.
The BHA also pointed out that “the modern ideal of a penal institution is that it should create an atmosphere of rehabilitation and hope {though that does not mean, for reasons stated above, that prisoners should therefore be released as soon as they seem to have repented their crimes, and there is a great deal about “modern” society, or rather the people who run it, which is seen as excessively liberal, and therefore damaging}. An execution, on the other hand, has a negative effect on the morale of officers and inmates alike, creating an atmosphere of menace in an already difficult situation.” Yes, and that was one of the things which always made prisons so grim in the old days. But although there was much about society then which we rightly condemn, it did work despite its faults, in a way which society now doesn’t seem to – in no small measure due to excessive liberalism. Besides, the argument is whether, overall, the good consequences of bringing back capital punishment outweigh the harmful ones which we ought to admit it has.
In this whole debate the most important issue is the effect reintroduction of the death penalty would have on terrorists, because if it inspired them to commit more or greater (in terms of scale) atrocities in the hope of making martyrs of themselves, the death toll could run to many thousands or even millions, especially if a nuclear power plant or bacteriological research station were attacked. The capacity of terrorism to cause mass slaughter was of course underlined by 9/11, even if an atrocity planned and executed in that particular way is unlikely to be repeated because of the security measures since introduced.
It is hard to say what exactly the consequences would be, from the point of view of dealing with terrorism, of capital punishment, and that is precisely why we should not take chances. What makes the issue even more difficult to decide is that there are, as we know, different kinds of terrorist. When I first started writing on this issue the main threat, in Britain, and thus the one most people here had in mind came from the IRA. It is now, on a global as well as British scale, al-Qaeda and similar groups, who are dedicated to the promotion by force of a radical and intolerant kind of Islam. Whether any member of the IRA would ever have responded to capital punishment by seeking martyrdom by killing even more people is impossible to say, but Islamic terrorists are generally far more likely to do so since to seek martyrdom is so often their business, as 9/11 and scores of other incidents demonstrate. You might reply to this by pointing out that a successful suicide bomber would be dead anyway. Indeed they would, but we can’t be sure that people with a fanatical hatred for Western society would always use that particular method to try to achieve their aims – they might simply use whatever one was available. Besides, even if the person who carried out the bombing was no longer around to be tried, those who planned it might be. The planners, where they are not the people actually on the spot, are possibly cowardly people who leave to others the task of immolating oneself in the name of Allah; if this estimate is correct then if anything they would be deterred by the thought of execution. But I don’t know if it is correct. Thought of the general encouragement which might be given to Islamic extremists by the death penalty makes one shudder. It should be remembered that if fanatical they may not be rational, and are therefore unpredictable. It would be taking too much of a risk.
It is not only Muslim terrorists who could with justification be labelled fanatical, and fanaticism always seems uncomfortably close to madness. What if our terrorist really does go over the edge (there is no reason why terrorists should be any less prone to become insane than other members of society) and starts indiscriminately, perhaps against the orders of his leaders, to attack any target that tickles his fancy, using weapons more dangerous and destructive than those generally available to the average murderer? Either the introduction of the death penalty would make no difference to a country's terrorist problem, or there is at least a possibility it would make it worse. If terrorists carried out more atrocities then a greater number of people could die than would be saved if the deterrent effect on other categories of wrongdoer stopped them from committing murder. To implement the death penalty but excuse terrorists from it would (a) be to show them a consideration they did not deserve, seeming to endorse the dubious principle that because their actions were political in motivation they must necessarily be excusable; (b) be construed by them as a sign of weakness on the part of the authorities: and (c) risk inciting some of them to commit even more heinous crimes in the hope that they would be included in it, if that was their aim. There are countries in the Middle and Far East which do execute terrorists, but the terrorist problem there is far greater than it is in the West, which may beg the question. Or there is in fact no connection at all between capital punishment and increased terrorism. But it should be borne that one of the Bali bombers was absolutely ecstatic at being condemned to death for his part in the atrocity, fully believing he was going to Heaven, as the millions around the world who saw his reaction on their TV screens will testify.
The BHA suggested that others than terrorists might murder in order to get themselves some publicity: “The popular press, always eager to feature stories that involve violence and human tragedy, already thrives on the wretched and sordid details of murder trials, and this may in some people act as a stimulant to similar crime. Hanging adds a new dimension in horror to encourage the prurient interest of the press.” This factor is relatively unimportant however since very few people would risk execution simply to get into the papers, unless their motive was political. Those who are particularly depraved and also for one reason or another feel excluded, developing a grudge against society which leads them to repudiate its laws and moral standards, might kill for the sake of the fame it brought. Having the power of life and death over someone, and wielding it, is for them an act of defiance, their perverse way of sending a message to the rest of the community that they have achieved something. But we are talking here of a relatively small minority of criminals, who are not enough to tip the balance of the argument.
If one discounts the terrorist factor then the argument for capital punishment hinges on its effect on "ordinary" murderers. If it deters them from killing, it can be regarded as saving more lives than it destroys. Logic dictates that the number of people in the world who are murdered must be at least as great as the number who murder; it is in fact greater since murderers often kill more than once. It is possible that there are some people who are being deterred by capital punishment (and thus also, I think we may assume, by the relatively less serious but still extremely unwelcome penalty of life imprisonment) in those places where it has been introduced, from committing murder, and if this is the case then capital punishment clearly has benefits which help to justify it. But such people would not figure in the statistics (they would understandably be unlikely to admit to anyone that they had contemplated such a crime as murder!). If the general trend is for the number of murders to rise, regardless of whether capital punishment is on the statute book, or to stay roughly the same then this would offset any deterrent effect capital punishment had on such people, but we could not be sure because we would be unable to know the ratio of those who were being deterred to those who were not.
We can only go by the evidence of countries such as the USA where it is already in force (though in America it is not universal, some states enforcing it while others don’t). This suggests it would have no effect whatsoever. Unless they are simply mad, in which case they aren’t fully responsible for their actions and probably shouldn’t be executed anyway, the person who has killed has already taken the decision to act outside the normal conventions and inhibitions of society and so will not be deterred by the risk to his life if he is brought to justice. That the number of murders has risen in the UK since its abolition there may well be due to other factors than the abolition itself, and does not necessarily imply that the number would fall if capital punishment were brought back.
If capital punishment does not function as a deterrent to murder, as seems to be the case, then the argument becomes a purely moral one, revolving around the need to highlight the wrongness of unjustifiable homicide and for some kind of retribution for the crime. Those who support capital punishment for these reasons are not merely indulging a primitive desire for revenge but sincerely believe that they are emphasising the sanctity of life rather than destroying it. I do not say this lightly, for so far I have not myself had a relative or close friend be unlawfully killed and am aware of the need not to say only those things which come easily, but I suggest we should prefer to conserve a murderer’s life along with everyone else’s; because there is always the possibility of their repenting their sins and it’s better to mend something that’s broken than to throw it away, especially if that something is a human being. Even if we don’t believe in any form of religion we ought still to think it infinitely good that the murderer has redeemed themselves morally by repudiating the action which led them to be convicted. Their redemption, which may only be possible if they are alive to repent, is a compensation for the death of the victim, even if the latter’s relatives, understandably, may not see it that way. Repentance can still happen, usually because the murderer has “found God”, if the death penalty is in operation – the prospect of execution may have the effect of concentrating the mind on such things – but there is no indication that it will. It may on the whole be more likely to do so if one is given a whole life to think over the matter.
It is here that the Christian attitude becomes so important. Asked if, for moral reasons, the philosophy should be adopted of "a life for a life", the majority of people would probably say "yes". But although the division is not purely on religious lines - there are Christians who support capital punishment and non-Christians who oppose it, out of the same moral considerations - Christian belief may well make a difference here, by influencing one in such a way as to protect all lives regardless of the extent of their moral depravity. It impinges on the matter in another way, too. If a murder victim were a Christian then although still grieving for them we would, if we were Christians ourselves, count them as being more fortunate than the person who committed the murder. The chances are that the victim is going to Heaven, where if anything they will be happier than those still in the earthly dimension who have life and limb intact. The murderer, however, is most probably not a Christian (they have committed a particularly unChristian act, and we can’t be sure that they will repent of their sin) and so is likely to go to Hell. The idea that one is doing the victim a favour by the execution of their killer should to Christians be absurd, even grotesque.
If the person who was murdered was not a Christian, then all we are doing in executing the murderer is making the spiritual tragedy worse by sending a second soul to Hell. In the Christian book, we are all guilty of some form of sin, and unless we are (sincere) Christians we all, however bad or good we may be, run the risk of damnation.

Much has been said about the danger, undoubtedly real, of innocent people being executed for murder through miscarriages of justice. The innocent are equally likely to be wrongly sentenced to life imprisonment, but at least they would still be alive, and there is always the possibility the mistake will come to light and the person be released. The only thing which can justify the risk of wrongful execution is the deterrent value, if any, of capital punishment. To be perhaps a little ruthless, if more lives are saved than are lost through wrongful execution then capital punishment is justified. If the innocent person is executed, and later the real murderer is caught and executed themselves, then two people have died where only one should have done. But the addition to the death toll from capital punishment will still be offset by the number of lives saved (which could be estimated from the fall in the murder rate). In even the most inefficient legal system it is unlikely that the number of innocent people executed will approach, let alone exceed, the number of guilty ones executed. If capital punishment does deter there will be fewer murders to arrest people for, whether they are innocent or guilty! Nothing else can excuse the risk.
Unfortunately, capital punishment doesn’t deter. If that is the case, and the argument should focus on the need to emphasise the sanctity of life, then there is no justification for it whatever; we cannot call it fair and just if avenging the death of an innocent involves even the possibility of another innocent being mistakenly executed. The relatives of the murder victim, should they have supported the murderer's execution, will be doubly upset if it is learned that not only has the real murderer not been caught, but an innocent person has died for the crime. They would feel personally implicated in the tragedy (by their general prosecution of the matter), and also that they had sullied the memory of their loved one. They would be equally likely to be caused considerable grief if they were not supporters of the death penalty – and for that reason.
Whether from a secular or a religious point of view, then, capital punishment does not pass the litmus test by doing more good than it does harm. It is ultimately discredited because of the possible effect it may have on terrorists. In countries where there is no terrorist problem, or likely to be one in the future, it should be recommended if it is likely to have a significant deterrent effect upon "domestic" murders. But it does not meet this criteria either, invalidating any claim that the danger of innocent people being executed is justified, and so the argument concerns purely its moral value as a way of upholding the sanctity of life, on which grounds we must reject it.
Generally then we should be against capital punishment. This, however, is assuming that normal conditions are operating. Going by the current state of Britain one can foresee a time when crime and prison overcrowding become so bad that capital punishment should be supported simply because it will help clear the prisons and avert a situation where either we become too lenient in our sentencing policy or the whole legal and punitive system collapses (the result in both cases being to give the criminals a free hand). Murderers will still be in prison while they are awaiting trial/execution, but hopefully they won’t be there for anywhere near as long. Capital punishment may prove essential in a similar way to that in which euthanasia could in the end be the only means to remove intolerable strain on health services. It means that in order to deal with the effect it might have on terrorists, we would have to take the equally awful step of freezing out the entire Muslim population of the country, because we don’t know from looking at their faces who are the terrorists and who aren’t. The consequences for race relations would be dire and also have an international dimension. God forbid, of course, that this whole scenario ever does become reality, and it is down to us to frame our policies so that it doesn’t.
What makes the system from which the death penalty is absent harder to accept is that life imprisonment is not an acceptable substitute for it, because society has become too lax; life too often does not in fact mean life. For a murderer to be sentenced to life imprisonment “with a recommendation that he serve at least thirty years” (and often it isn’t even that) is a contradiction in terms. Either it’s life imprisonment or it isn’t. If there is even the possibility that the sentence should be reduced then it is not life. A fair and sensible legal system would maintain that it should be life, unless evidence emerges that the convicted person was in fact innocent; this is the only reservation there should be, nor is it one any rational person would object to. We ought also to take steps to deal with the things that may contribute to, if not fully account for, the committing of murder. The BHA declared in their broadsheet: “We believe {the recent increase in violence} stems from a number of causes – the social acceptance of violence as commonplace, and its treatment in the media; the greed encouraged by consumerism, and the extremes between rich and poor; laxity in the control of dangerous weapons; and, not least, the lack of moral concern in society and the failure to provide meaningful moral education. It is by tackling these issues that we may reduce the murder rate, as well as achieving a saner and more pleasant environment.” I can find no reason to dissent from that.

Yes, life should be sacrosanct. But does that mean that we should refuse to let it be lost when it wants to be?
There are many who feel that anyone over the age of 18 should have the right to kill themselves if they want to, although they may think it a tragedy that the suicide's problems should have got to the stage where they saw taking their life as the only way out. Of course many of us, if we knew that someone was planning to kill themselves, would try to stop them. That is an instinctive human reaction; it does not by itself imply that the person's suicide is wrong either morally or legally. There are religious and moral arguments against suicide – it may be better to hang on rather than take such an irreversible step, especially when this will cause distress to the loved ones you leave behind, and if you believe in God then He is a source of strength in adversity, which may remove the need to kill yourself to solve your problems. But suicide in itself is not held to be criminal by Western law. Although in practice most of us would probably try to stop them, the principle is that one should have the right to take one's own life, except in cases where it would harm others. To assert otherwise implies that a person's life is in some way a property of the state - a rather disturbing idea. The difficulties begin when one person appears to be assisting another to die, because we must be sure the latter really wants to kill themselves and is not actually being murdered. Potentially there are a great many cases where this uncertainty could arise. The most pressing issue however is whether doctors should permit patients who are suffering acutely and whose condition is not likely to improve to be painlessly killed if they desire it. By increasing the human lifespan, at least in the more prosperous parts of the world, and enabling those who are seriously ill to be kept alive for longer even if they must still ultimately pie from their condition, medical technology has created a particulary agonising dilemma. There is this conflict, “people should be allowed to die if they wish, that is die with dignity,” versus “euthanasia goes against the Hippocratic oath, and besides the system could be exploited to murder people.”
Those taking the latter view believe the emphasis should be laid instead on improving medical care even further so that people won’t want to die anyway. But we can’t be sure we will really succeed in this aim (or how long it will take, and how many people will suffer in the meantime?), because we can’t predict the future. Also we are denying euthanasia to people now so that people in the future won’t have to have it – is that right? It might be seen as playing God, loftily decreeing that the wellbeing of one group of people should be sacrificed for that of another. Again, it is technology which has created the problem by allowing people to be kept alive for longer when the quality of their life has gone; how do we know that its disadvantages will not eventually outweigh its benefits?
We are arrogantly prescribing for the patient what is good for them. It is not only arrogant, it could be said to be lacking in compassion. Whether it is or not, certainly if the deciding factor is supposed to be the need to take a humane attitude, then keeping them alive when nothing can be gained from it, when there is no quality to their life, would be the wrong thing to do, whatever we might think we are doing. Here it should be pointed out that people don’t necessarily kill their dying relatives, in cases where this happens, lightly. Some years ago I was deeply moved to see a young man break down on TV as he described how he had turned off his mother’s life-support system. I find it hard to view him as a criminal, though he was being treated as one by the law, and so should any person with a heart.
Nor do people lightly commit suicide themselves. They may do it on impulse, as I think happened to someone I once knew, but there would still have to be an underlying malaise which chanced to suddenly surface; an impulse to go into a newsagents and buy a particular magazine is simply an impulse, and it isn’t likely to be terminal whereas the suicide is. The actor George Sanders is said to have killed himself because he was bored but I think there must have been more profound reasons behind his action than that.
I find it laughable that those who oppose euthanasia say they do so because it is a sin to take innocent life. The use of the word innocent implies that the person is the victim of unsolicited death. That they might want to die, which very often is the case, is the crucial factor, and use of the term "innocent" in this way makes little sense unless perhaps we are saying that these poor deluded little sinners need to be protected from the consequences of their own weakness or stupidity (and that comes over as extremely patronising). Euthanasia is not murder unless any killing of another person for whatever reason can be called that, and when the “victim” actually wants to die including it within the definition seems even more dubious.
There is a clear difference between cases where the prospective suicide's problems are mental and spiritual, and those where the deterioration in quality of life is due to physical factors. Physical adversity is in many ways more difficult to deal with than spiritual adversity. Spiritual and mental problems can be overcome with the help of counselling, though the process is often not an easy one. Where they are concerned, Christians may indeed be justified in regarding suicide as sinful. One can, after all, enlist God's help in coping with them, and therefore for one not to do so but instead resort to suicide implies rejection of Him, in a very big and spiritually fatal way. But, despite advances in medical technology, once a physical illness has reached a certain stage it is impossible, until further improvements occur - and who can say if and when they will - to alleviate its effects, just as it is to draw a square circle. A religious faith may enable some to endure the pain, indignity etc unto death, but we can’t force people to adopt that faith. They may decide to carry on for the very reason that they feel they should put their trust in God and endure suffering in his name, anything else being a sin; but that is their choice. Someone else might make a different choice, which should be respected.
It should be noted that Christ did not pronounce on the subject of suicide, which suggest that in God’s view the rightness or wrongness of it is a matter of opinion, on which individuals have to decide where they stand in accordance with the need for free will. If people don’t commit suicide lightly (and it would be odd if they did) then God is more likely to be forgiving. They don’t kill themselves unless because of quite awful stress and misery, something which a just and caring deity would take into account. Granted, it’s when things seem darkest that it’s most important you don’t quit, but a successful resolution to your troubles can’t be relied upon and who is to say that one’s plight may be so acute, one’s suffering so appalling, and one’s chances of recovry so slim that there’s nothing cruel or cowardly about the option of euthanasia?
Christians hold that life is a gift from God, and some of them would maintain that to reject it - in any circumstances - is therefore a mortal sin. They may not dispute someone's right to die if they wish, in the sense that they would accept the secular law by which it is not a criminal act, but they would oppose voluntary euthanasia (a strange and rather illogical approach to take). The whole Christian system of salvation (which involves doing the right things morally as well as believing in God) depends on the free will of the sinner in any case, and although it may distress us if they do things which threaten their salvation (especially if those things involve their dying, and so rob them of any opportunity to repent the sin before they come to be judged) there is nothing we can do about it. It is not for us to impose our own standards of morality upon others, and yet that is what we are doing if we deny their right to die because it offends our moral and religious principles. Whether, in the last resort, suicide is morally defensible makes no difference to that.
In any case I do not believe suicide is in all possible circumstances a sin. If God and those who believe in Him are benevolent, a thing is only to be called a sin when its perpetrator actually has some chance of doing the alternative (that is, whatever is considered morally and theologically right). It is useless, from both the secular and the Christian point of view, to regard refusal to do something, such as carry on living despite being in intense pain of a kind it is not possible to alleviate, as wrong when one could not act otherwise in any case. Some religious leaders prefer us to learn from suffering (with the help of religious faith) so that we may be better able to overcome adversity in our future lives. But a person who is terminally ill and confined to a hospital bed will not have much of an opportunity to put the moral and spiritual qualities which can be developed from endurance of suffering to good use; they are prevented from participating in the world at large until they die. They do not have and never will have the opportunity to make use of them either for their own benefit or God's. The only fair way for a benevolent deity to judge them would be on the basis of what they had done in their past life, when they had a reasonable expectation of remaining healthy and fit. All that can be asked of them by the religious is that they reconcile themselves to God before they die - and there is not, nor I think should there be, any statuary right to do the asking, and certainly no obligation for them to respond positively to the request.
At the same time, although this should not except in the most extreme circumstances be the deciding factor, the sufferer’s death will have an altruistic purpose in that it will release funds for care of those with a better chance of meaningful life in the long run; and if they wish to die anyway they will surely be grateful for that. When they do wish to die anyway it means the strain on the health services is even more unjustified.
I believe doctors are wrong to oppose euthanasia - although, understandably, it goes against their professional instinct to preserve life, one of a doctor's most valuable assets is clearly compassion, and compassion should mean that one does not keep a patient alive when they are in extreme pain and there is no chance of alleviating their suffering. The world has changed considerably since the Hippocratic oath was first sworn. I therefore endorse the not unfamiliar maxim “thou should not kill, but should not strive, officiously to keep alive.”
Nonetheless, as with abortion, we must allow those doctors who on moral grounds disagree with the principle of euthanasia to refuse to perform it. We must consider whether or not that would make the policy unworkable (an especially important consideration in the UK given that the British Medical Association, rightly or wrongly, tends to oppose euthanasia, and it is unlikely that we could coerce the doctors into performing mercy killings against their wishes).

The moral and religious arguments against euthanasia in principle would seem to me to be of dubious validity. The real problem lies in the mechanics of instituting it in practice. A patient's family, while not having the ultimate say in whether or not to "kill" them, would by law have to be consulted for their views and kept informed of what was going on. This would reduce the chances that anything untoward could take place; if they suspected that it was being planned, they would have the right to report their suspicions to the relevant authority and order an investigation. But how do we decide what is the level of physical and bodily impairment where one might feel there was no point in going on living? Could an unscrupulous doctor give someone the impression that an illness was incurable when in fact it was not?
The best and most legitimate reason for opposing euthanasia is that the system could be abused. It has been feared that the practice may be exploited by unscrupulous people to bring about someone's death for purely social reasons (i.e. getting rid of a tiresome elderly relative) or for financial gain (bumping off that elderly, though they needn’t in fact be that, relative because you stand to benefit from their will and can’t wait to get your hands on the cash). But, though one can presume too much upon human common sense and good intentions, it is stretching credibility to suggest that society is so inefficient, or depraved, that the number of cases in which those who are killed genuinely desire death will not vastly outweigh those where they didn’t and have in fact been murdered. Especially with improved medical technology and an ageing population, misuse of euthanasia to get rid of someone you didn’t like or whose money you coveted couldn’t wait to get your hands on, despite regulations aimed at preventing it, would probably happen less frequently than cases where, if there was no euthanasia, people were kept alive in extreme pain and discomfort. The system would be no more corrupt and incompetent than a lot else in today’s world, and if you can get rid of the corruption and incompetence, you won’t need to outlaw the euthanasia.
A potential complication lies in the fact that the sick person's reasons for wanting to die may be known not to be purely medical. Before they went into hospital a loved one may have died or they suffered some misfortune that in the long run diminished his determination to carry on. If the doctor suspects that the reasons are partly social, in that it were not for them the person might be prepared to continue living regardless of their physical impairment, does he then have a duty to refuse the request? (Where he does not know, of course, he is not to blame, and it is the patient's fault if they are making the wrong decision.) But again, such cases will be a minority of the total if the deciding factor is the fundamental, long-term trend for medical science to prolong life without necessarily improving its quality.

I have asserted above that any individual should be able to kill themselves, or be killed, if they genuinely wish it; however like most rights this cannot be absolute. We are I believe justified in compromising an individual's rights over their own body if other people's are adversely affected by their exercise. This would be a possibility with euthanasia, since we cannot be absolutely sure the system would not be abused. However, in most cases this will not occur. In this respect euthanasia fulfils the utilitarian aim of achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number. (If it transpires that euthanasia can have a profound effect upon mitigating the effects of the demographic time bomb and so, by sacrificing a relative few who for medical reasons want to die benefit a much larger number of people who want to live and have a much better chance of remaining alive and in good health if accorded the best available treatment, then not legalising it is what goes against the Utilitarian criteria).

An important thing to remember about voluntary euthanasia is that in the end its legalisation is probably inevitable. Public opinion is moving in favour of it, besides which we also have to take into account the problems predicted to arise from the "demographic time bomb" (hereafter DTB), which include an ageing population, and the increased expenditure on care and treatment which will be needed to deal with them. If voluntary euthanasia can help relieve the situation it should be considered. However, we will assume for the moment that despite the impact of the DTB we are only going to kill those people who request it. (We must attempt to estimate the extent of the savings in time, money and resources which could be gained if we did this. If they would be negligible, then there is little value in permitting euthanasia as a means of alleviating the effects of the DTB, and the arguments rest solely upon its moral ramifications.)

Whatever one's views on it, abortion is without doubt a distressing business. In trying to decide when, or whether, it is justified we must identify the reasons why abortions happen. They take place in one of the following four cases:
(1) They are carried out against the wishes of the mother.
(2) The mother’s life is in danger, or the child was conceived during rape, or the child is thought likely to be handicapped to the extent that it would have little chance of survival or quality of life.
(3) The mother feels for one reason or another that she simply could not with the stress and responsibility involved in bringing up the child, for purely psychological reasons or ones to do with her personal circumstances. The issue is not the physical inconvenience of childbirth as such.
(4) Abortion is sought for social reasons such as the sex of the child, or deformities such as a harelip, cleft palate etc, and the mother would otherwise be prepared to go through any pain or inconvenience involved in childbirth. Although some of the deformities, at least, can nowadays be rectified much more easily by surgery the issue may still arise (the law on this matter will of course vary from country to country, as it does with abortion generally).
It would seem illicit to welcome abortion – or to enforce it - as a means of keeping the population down (overcrowding being a serious problem for the world in general and the developing countries in particular). One should rather try to solve the problem through contraception, whatever the drawbacks of such a course. I can, I am afraid to say, envisage a situation where overpopulation becomes so serious that one could be forgiven for feeling glad at any relief abortion might bring - assuming it could have such an effect - but to make it compulsory in some situations as a means of alleviating the problem would not be morally acceptable, except in the most desperate circumstances. Therefore in contingency (1), assuming normal conditions, it would not be acceptable.
Contingency (1) is, fortunately, relatively rare, although it has happened. The abortion is performed regardless of the wishes of the mother, or of both parents, at the instigation of someone who is motivated by sheer cruelty or for some reason regards the child's birth as inconvenient to them. It is not their decision; if the mother’s rights over her body are sacrosanct in this whole matter then of necessity they will be sacrosanct if she does want to have the child as much as if she doesn’t, which is when freedom of choice is normally invoked. Distress at being forced to undergo an abortion against one’s will cannot be any less horrible than the opposite. There is no doubt on any decent person’s part that it is completely wrong. And it is in one respect more wrong than forcing a woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy, since in the latter case those responsible are at least acting from sincerely held moral convictions (i.e. that abortion is wrong and inhumane) – not the same thing as wanton cruelty. It may be the father who brings about the abortion, perhaps through bullying and psychological pressure rather than any physical means, but it is still seen, and quite rightly, as wicked and immoral. He can discuss the matter sensibly with the mother, as ought to happen if she does not want the baby to be born and he does, but in the end her wishes must be paramount.
Most humane people would allow the right to abort in contingency (2), even if the abortion, when there would have been no danger to the child, is still regrettable. Even British MP David Alton, whose dislike of abortion is motivated by a genuine horror and moral revulsion against it, more or less accepted this principle in the parliamentary bills he submitted to limit it during the late 1980s and 1990s. It is (3) and (4), and especially (4), which are the controversial categories. Most people would allow abortion in contingency (3), but agree that counselling and parenting courses should be recommended and adoption suggested as an alternative. We cannot however force women to take the latter course (and thus not have the abortion). Some women would be uneasy at the existence somewhere in society of a person they know to be their natural child, but whose whereabouts they are unable to asertain and who they cannot therefore have any contact with. There is also the danger that one day you may meet a young person of the opposite sex (or the same sex for that matter), marry and have sex with them only to discover they are your son or daughter (if you never knew it that would not make it any less repellent). So we are still faced with a choice between the parents' rights and the supposed rights of the unborn child.
In deciding, for reasons perhaps related to their financial circumstances or home environment, that bringing up the child would impose intolerable stresses on them the mother (or both parents together) may genuinely be acting from what they consider to be the child's best interests. One is inclined to ask them why, in that case, they decided to conceive it in the first place. Again we come round to the question of whether we should believe in absolute freedom of choice; if we have committed ourselves to such a position we obviously cannot confine freedom to a particular action or a particular time. If we take away the mother's freedom of choice at one stage in the process, we have established the right to take it away at any other stage. And if there is a line to be drawn, then at what point in the proceedings do we draw it?
Finally there is contingency (4). Undoubtedly most would regard these motives for abortion as deplorable, even if they thought freedom of choice should still apply. It is hard to disagree with anyone who regards abortions carried out for this reason as murder, even though they might not be so in a legal sense, and if the Christian God exists He must surely view them as a mortal sin. The question is whether one should still permit the abortion on grounds of personal freedom.
In Britain at any rate, abortion for social reasons is not permitted by law (although it still happens, mothers not always being honest about their reasons for seeking a termination). Because, if there were no such ban in operation, the mother would not otherwise have had the child it is still an infringement of her right to choose and a requisitioning of her body for a purpose that the state, in contravention of her wishes, has decided must be carried out. Even though we may have rejected the appalling idea that virtue can be made compulsory, accepting that a woman cannot be forced to love the child and bring it up as her own and may if she wishes seek its adoption (the concern of anti-abortionists is that the foetus is not aborted, rather than that the resulting child is adopted), we are still infringing her freedom in a very personal way. We have decided that she must have the child, since abortion would in our view be morally wrong, and are effectively using her body as a machine for its production, without her consent. This isn't something we should do lightly. There is something barbaric and degrading about it, particularly when childbirth can still be a painful and traumatic business. Such a fundamental infringement of liberty may not, as I once believed, lead to the loss of freedom in other ways and for a greater number of people, but the fact that it doesn’t, and that the principle is enshrined in law in some countries does not of itself mean that it is right. The essential wrongness of something, if it is wrong, does not consist of the number of people it affects or whether it is legal.
In objecting to the principle of total freedom (in other words, to put it bluntly, abortion on demand) one may point out that whereas going through with the birth may cause the mother pain and discomfort (we have I trust already accepted that where there is any threat to her life termination should be permitted), abortion involves for the child rather more than that - its death. This is a consideration we ought to be sensitive to even if it does not ultimately make any difference to our opinions. The fact that one of the two people whose rights and interests we are concerned about (i.e. the mother and the child) is physically inside the other means that we cannot possibly uphold those of one without encroaching on the other’s in a very big way. For this reason abortion is a uniquely agonising issue, one where we might be sorely tempted to sit on the fence if such an attitude were morally responsible.
For myself, I do believe in abortion on demand - I do not shrink from the logic of what I said above, although that doesn’t mean I am approaching the issue in an insensitive fashion. I abhor the presumption that a woman's body can be used as a means of bearing a child against her wishes because other people have decided it would be wrong to abort it. I would still oppose termination after a certain stage of the pregnancy if I felt the soul of the child to be imperilled, but I do not, for the reasons set out below, believe that it is imperilled. Therefore I see no justification for taking the disagreeable step of removing a woman's freedom of choice on such a highly personal matter. This does not mean that we should treat abortion lightly, and indeed most women who undergo it don't.
Why exactly do I feel so strongly that there should be absolute freedom of choice on this issue? Sometimes preservation of life is not more important than the upholding of a certain principle, a principle which is noble even though it may not be rejected for ignoble means. There is something about childbirth, something unique, which means it can only ever be with the mother’s consent, notwithstanding the reasons she might want an abortion. This is true whatever stage of the pregnancy one is at. Since we would hope that ultimately the mother would love and cherish the child, even if she gives it up for adoption (it’s wonderful when they later get in touch and become good friends), we would in principle be making parenthood – in effect, virtue, since parenthood must be accompanied by genuine love and self-sacrifice – compulsory, and that would debase it in a way I find I can’t accept. Something can be done from good intentions, as forbidding abortions often is, but still be abhorrent. I have no problem, in itself, with the notion that the unborn child has rights, after all they are infringed when an undesired abortion is performed; I just happen to feel, for the reasons stated, that in this case they should not take precedence over the woman’s or the father’s.
The principle of abortion on demand (i.e. at any stage of gestation) is not really accepted by public opinion (if only because most people don't expect to ever have an unwanted pregnancy), or by the majority of MPs, and there is little chance it ever will be. Faced with a question like abortion, most people tend to compromise (especially in Britain, where compromise tends to be seen as a tidy and reasonable way to resolve a problem). Unhappy at the prospect of dictating to a woman what she can and cannot do with her body, but nonetheless troubled by the destruction of the foetus, they tend to uphold the present law, which is that abortion is not permissible after a certain stage (24 weeks) in the foetus’ development - the point at which it could be regarded as a human being. After the 24 weeks a pregnancy can only be terminated if there is a risk to health of the mother or child or it is likely to be born “with such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. Before then Christians are probably not justified in viewing it as having a soul which may be in jeopardy; nor does its “dying” seem quite so horrific anyway. In wanting to go further than the 24-week limit, which one must if one thinks freedom of choice should be absolute, when the current (British) law is accepted as a reasonable compromise by most and isn’t likely to be changed, I’m only saying what I believe and not claiming it is necessarily endorsed by others.
It’s worth pointing out that there does seem to be a slight anomaly in the moral thinking behind the current law. Abortion is permitted when the pregnancy is the result of rape. But isn’t forcing a woman to have a child, even when she desired the abortion for unethical reasons, itself a form of rape in view of her loss of control over her own body, the compulsion to undergo the very intimate and sometimes painful process of childbirth? The possibility that between being told she could not have the abortion and giving birth she might change her mind and want the child after all makes no difference to this because we’d make her have it if she didn’t want it. It’s the principle of the thing that counts.
We ought to touch on the role of the father, who does perhaps have a greater right than anyone else apart from the mother to a say in what happens. The decision to abort, assuming the law permits the abortion in any case, ought to be between both parents after they have thought about the matter carefully, and a wife who does not at least consider her husband's wishes in the matter is being extremely mercenary. Better a father feels he ought to be involved than that he doesn’t care either way, which is morally and spiritually appalling; he needs to take responsibility whether he is the woman’s husband or merely had his fun and cleared off. But it is still in the end her body, not his.
If it’s sufficiently important that abortion at any stage of a pregnancy be a matter of choice, with the person making the choice, i.e. the mother, accepting its consequences for themselves (which here may include guilt and trauma) as it is recognised should be the case with all freedoms, it should be one regardless of the fact that many women who have an abortion still believe it to be wrong (this is confirmed by research in America) which pro-choice women saw abortion unambiguously as killing) and soon choose to conceive a new child whom they do keep). Endorsing this principle means allowing women to get away with securing abortions for ostensibly medical but actually for social reasons, distasteful as the deceit is (it is undetectable anyway, so there is nothing much to be done about it). It means accepting a situation where the definition of a handicap in the child severe enough to justify an abortion is often blurred. It is pointed out that our behaviour in such cases is at odds with our treatment of handicapped children once they are born; but the crucial fact was that the mother chose to have the child (the choice not to have it must be respected), or did not know about the handicap before the birth, irrespective of what she would have done if she had. Those who do decide to let the child be born with the handicap and do their best to care for it are admirable; those who don’t can surely be forgiven. Rick Simpson in Abortion: Choosing Who Lives (Grove Books Ltd 2002) invites people to question the odd, in his view, dichotomy between our permissiveness regarding abortion and our willingness to provide facilities for assisted reproduction, good ante-natal care and counselling after a miscarriage. But the dichotomy exists because (a) in the latter cases the mother WANTED to have a child, and (b) once it is no longer within the mother’s body the situation has changed and there is no infringement of another person’s rights.
Simpson argues that by effectively making childbirth a matter of “pick and choose” (which in the way he means, it certainly should not be), abortion damages society by lowering its moral tone. Perhaps it does to some extent. But whereas in general terms the culture of “pick and choose” is socially damaging, some people would regard abortion as a special case in that the woman’s rights come before what would take precedence in most other cases; and although they support that right to choose that doesn’t mean they are saying she made the right choice, so they are not themselves being morally debased. For the women’s part, damage to the dignity of society is limited by the truth that many of them, whatever the ultimate correctness of their decision, don’t choose to have abortions lightly.
There should be a legal requirement to offer counselling; after all if we are concerned about the mother, if we have decided her wishes should be paramount, then it makes little sense for there not to be given that women can suffer post-abortion trauma including feelings of guilt etc (and have been known to sue if they don’t get the counselling or its quality isn’t good enough). There is nothing wrong with referral to a Pregnancy Crisis Centre, provided the mother first indicates that she wants to be referred. My only reservation is that we should be careful how far we involve specifically pro-life organisations in the process, as Simpson suggests we do; since their avowed purpose is to ensure if possible that the mother does have the baby they may end up, perhaps inevitably, putting inordinate pressure on her or approaching the matter in such a way as to only increase the guilt and therefore stress she might go through if she decides not to have it. To oppose abortion because it “does not serve the woman’s best interests”, as Simpson does, is to arbitrarily decide what is good for people, as when we outlaw euthanasia.
Counselling should include, for the sake both of the mother and the child, the advice that it is better to abort at an early stage of the pregnancy when the baby is little more than a bundle of cells which cannot yet be considered a human being; then, it is perhaps less likely that the mother will be committing “murder” or will feel that she is doing so. But she has no legal requirement to take that advice, or any other which is given her. Or to consult with the father, although it should be suggested to her that such might be a good idea.
I should stress that the fact someone has the right to do a particular thing does not mean that it is morally right, and this certainly applies to “social” abortions. Freedom of choice means the mother is responsible for the psychological and spiritual consequences, for her, of aborting for the wrong reasons. She may suffer feelings of guilt because of the impact of the abortion on others, by which I don’t only mean the child; she does have a moral obligation to consult the father, whether or not she chooses to fulfil it. And whereas doubt about the ethics of what she did proves she at least has a conscience, to abort for purely social reasons, even if to do so is wrong – or without any conscience at all, the reasons for the abortion perhaps being valid - is another matter. If there is a God then it is most unlikely, as we’ll see, that an aborted child would go to Hell. The mother, in this case, might.
Nor does the rightness of freedom of choice justifty “backstreet” abortions where it is denied, though they are probably inevitable, which is one reason for liberalising the law. If a law is seen as wrong (which ought to be the reason for breaking it, rather than the financial profits to be gained from running an abortion mill) it is down to a person’s individual conscience whether they obey it nonetheless; but here, since such operations can be dangerous to the mother as well as generally messy and unpleasant, there is every sense in ruling them out altogether.
The requirement that doctors can’t be forced to carry out an abortion against their wishes is of course just. Potentially the whole point of freedom of choice could be wrecked if no doctor could be found who would authorise it, but since it would be as wrong to force a doctor to agree to an abortion against their will as it would be to force a woman to have a child against her will, there is nothing to lose.
In Britain, according to the Abortion Act 1967, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the legal requirement is for two doctors to sign form HSA1, certifying that one or more of the criteria for permitting abortion apply. Simpson objects that this places GPs in a difficult position should they have a crisis of conscience or feel, if they refuse to sign, that they may be accused of imposing their own ethics on others. To this I can only reply that they must have the courage of their convictions; we all, in our professional or private capacities, sometimes have to make hard decisions and also be prepared to take flak from those who think we are being arrogant because we have opinions they don’t happen to agree with.
As in all social issues, the religious angle needs to be considered. I know little of Muslim, Jewish etc views on the matter (which are probably not uniform) and can only speak for Christianity. Christ did not pronounce on abortion, any more than he did on suicide, so it is up to us to decide if it would be murder (in cases other than where it was (a) unsolicited and (b) wicked in motive). In the past this has not stopped the Catholic Church from institutionalising, within itself at any rate, the belief that abortion is wrong. I imagine it would allow the kind of exceptions which everyone would agree was sensible; and of course it needn’t be just Catholics who find abortion questionable to a greater or lesser extent. But without wishing to whip up anti-Catholic feeling, when Catholic clergy or laypeople lobby their MPs, concert with MPs who are themselves Catholic, or otherwise seek the passage of laws limiting abortion they are imposing their doctrines on people who aren’t Catholics, in a very personal and intimate sense if it is one’s freedom over one’s own body which is called into question. This is even less acceptable there is no Biblical mandate for such a stand on the issue. Simpson believes the majority of true Christians are against abortion in any case: “I believe the vast majority of Christians who see Scripture as their ultimate authority basically share the ethical position on abortion just outlined {that it is a wrongful act}; few Protestants of evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal traditions, or practising Roman Catholics would dissent greatly from it.” This is making somewhat of an assumption: don’t Anglicans, who Simpson doesn’t mention here, see Scripture as their ultimate guide too? In truth the fact that Christ never condemned abortion means that Christians differ as individuals on whether it is ever justified, just as they differ on a whole host of other issues. That some of them at least feel it should be a matter of the woman’s choice is illustrated by a priest of my acquaintance who told a lady in his congregation who was agonising over whether to have an abortion – I don’t know the precise circumstances in which she became pregnant – that he would support her if she had the child and would support her if she didn’t. Contrasting modern attitudes to abortion with the situation in the Bible, where “the condition from which women sought deliverance in Scripture was barrenness, not pregnancy, and children are viewed biblically as a blessing from God,” Simpson finds the difference tragic. He forgets that to some extent the Bible is a product of its time, a time very different from today’s, when due to socio-economic change or overpopulation or both there are pressures operating in the West, and in the world in general, of the sort that weren’t a factor in Biblical times.
For Christians (and for everyone else, if the Christians are right) the most important question is that of whether the unborn child, if aborted, goes to Hell, since the ultimate aim of Christianity is to avoid anyone suffering that fate, its opposite – Heaven – being more than adequate compensation for anything bad (in a moral or practical sense) that happens in this life. To the Christian mind it is the possibility of damnation, in anyone's case, which makes death a terrible thing; other considerations are, in truth, unimportant. Does this apply where the unborn child is concerned? Whether a truly just God would consign the infant to everlasting damnation is to me highly doubtful, but can one be sure that he wouldn't? Is a foetus, after a certain stage in its development, something which God would consider liable to damnation? Although we might believe, some of us at any rate, that God is indispensable, it cannot be denied that one of the problems of worshipping a deity whose nature is such that in this life he is inevitably remote from us, and difficult to understand, is that we are unsure of his intentions in such matters as this. Since, in Christianity, nothing can be worse than the loss of a soul, the arguments about freedom of choice would ultimately make no difference if the child really were in any danger from damnation.
My personal belief is that if God is truly just then the child would not go to Hell. It would either go to Heaven, or to some third realm where it could grow into an adult and make a proper choice whether or not to be a Christian. Either its lot is being improved or the abortion would make no difference. Consequently, I do not consider the interference with the mother's rights over her own body to be justified. There has been much theological controversy over what happens, when they die, to the various categories of people who for one reason or another never get to hear the Gospel. I myself have spent a great deal of time and mental effort considering this question. Generally, Christians nowadays, unless they are particularly fanatical, or plain unhinged, take the view that God would not cause them to be eternally damned or even placed in some sort of perpetual limbo. If we can believe this to apply to adults who died before Christianity began or had a chance to reach them, or who live in, say, a reactionary Islamic state which forbids them the slightest contact with Christian evangelists, we must surely believe it applies to the unborn child (assuming that child has in any case reached a stage of development where it can be considered to be a human being, something which may be doubtful). Out of all the categories of people who don't hear the Gospel, the unborn child is surely the least likely to be cast into the everlasting fire. Consequently, for some Christians to make the fuss about abortion which they do, with Cardinal Hume, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain, implying that it was a more important issue than any other when he urged voters in the general election of 1997 not to support any party which did not take an anti-abortion stand, seems to me extraordinary. It is dangerously akin to single-issue fanaticism.
The secular mind is less likely to connect death with Heaven and Hell, but it nevertheless sees it as a worrying and unwelcome, because possibly terminal, thing. It may all the same be split between those who feel the rights of the mother take precedence over everything else, and those who don't, although I suspect the latter are the more numerous species. If you are a Christian then your attitude to the question should centre on the likely fate of the child's soul, if it has one; if you are not, the choice you have to make is whether the infringement of the mother's rights is worse than the termination of the pregnancy (for both may seem emotionally repugnant). There are no apparent rational grounds for regarding either of the two considerations here being weighed as more important than the other, and whether one should is a purely objective, personal matter; the only thing which can be said is that some things may seem so abhorrent that they cannot be countenanced even if to reject them means the destruction of life in some form. The justification for such a position is difficult to defend rationally, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong; some things are simply difficult to describe in rational terms. Of course both pro- and anti-abortionists, except where the former take the matter lightly or are advocating enforced abortion without good reason, are acting from sincerely held convictions. Though what they believe in may itself be abhorrent, their motives are not.
As a final word, the lady in the congregation of my priestly acquaintance did decide in the end to have the child. But it should be stressed that this only happened because he had agreed to support her if she didn’t have the baby. The message is worth sending to the pro-lifers that sometimes you may get what you want by not pressing for it too hard.

Whatever you think about pregnancy as a matter of pick ‘n’ choose
there are undoubtedly some ways in which children have been, or can be, commodified to an extent which is undesirable whether or not the practices concerned are illegal, and directly or indirectly degrades the whole of society. I am personally against surrogate motherhood, by which a woman can in a sense hire out their womb, because the whole business of childhood from conception through to birth has to be something highly personal to the mother, and if it isn’t it’s devalued. It also creates divided loyalties on the part of the child (because the business has to be personal to them too even though they don’t subsequently remember it in detail). However the fact that the conception mother might not be able to have a child otherwise, and that many surrogate mothers will be acting from altruistic motives and not for money (or only for money), means that banning it could be seen as inhumane and is probably the reason why it is currently legal.
It is also now possible, though currently not legal, to determine the sex of your baby. My feeling and probably that of many others is that the harmful consequences for society as a whole if it were allowed would outweigh those of denying to one particular couple their right to choose in the matter. It would generally encourage misogyny, either towards men or towards women, by making it acceptable to prefer one gender over the other. And then there are the practical problems involved if an imbalance in the proportion of males to females, or vice versa, resulted from the granting of this right on a large scale. Thirdly, of course, once the principle is established that you can determine something so fundamental as the gender of a child it will become psychologically easier to seek to determine, from pregnancy, anything else about it. Influencing its ethnicity through tampering with its genes would in today’s politically correct world be (quite correctly) ruled out, but there are other applications of the technique which would be abominable whether or not we chose to make the distinction. The same kind of issues are not raised when an unborn child, who can be of either sex, is aborted.
Might it not be hypocritical to decree that a couple can abort their child if they so wish but cannot determine its sex? No, because the former does not have so many large-scale implications. The freedom to abort, within certain limits, is already widely accepted and has not led to widespread loss of liberty and Fascism in all walks of life. Determining the sex of a child would have far worse consequences if permitted. It would be another route to the designer baby, something which sends a shiver down the spine whatever one’s stand is on all the other issues we’ve been discussing in this chapter.

The recent developments in biological science, perhaps the latest stage in the process of technological advance that began with the Industrial Revolution, have many applications - some of which are not yet possible, but may become so in the foreseeable future - and therefore have created many dilemmas. Some feel that they are an unacceptable interference in the course of nature; that they are allowing Man in effect to play God, a role he isn’t always suited to perform.
The most obvious manifestation of this would be the creation, through genetic engineering or some other means, of a whole new life form. This would not necessarily be blasphemous, if I may use the word. If we can do such a thing it is only because we are making use of abilities which God Himself gave us. If he’s what he’s cracked up to be it wouldn’t be possible to usurp his role in Creation anyway; we could not imitate him unless only to a certain extent and/or because he wanted us to.
With genetically-engineered life forms, or GELFs as they acronym in science fiction, the real issue would be one’s purpose in creating a new species. Life is just too wonderful a thing to be cheapened and debased by being created purely for the sake of scientific curiosity or on a whim, so much so that the principle applies both to sentient life forms like humans and to the simplest non-sentient ones. It applies especially to the former, where its rejection would be particularly disturbing even though the life form might be glad to exist once it had been brought into the world, and should be valued as we would any other (as with an unwanted child – the comparison is valid because we ought not to want life forms to be created for their own sake). A life form created for a justified practical purpose might turn out to be aesthetically pleasing, and we would then be permitted to take pleasure from its beauty, but that should not have been the primary purpose of its existence.
If you accept this then it’s clear that genetic art, though a concept which at the moment belongs more to the realm of science fiction than to that of fact, is ruled out. It’s been suggested that organisms might be created, or genetically fashioned, purely to look nice. There’s undoubtedly something disturbing about the concept when it’s Man who’s doing it; although a Christian, for example, believes that God created the world in all its beauty purely for its own sake, God (a) had the right and (b) knew what He was doing. The life forms involved would probably be fairly simple, unintelligent creatures – creating sentient ones for art’s sake would certainly be out - but would that make it right?
If we found the results of the genetic art were attractive, we would not want to outlaw it. There would be a temptation to keep it. Could artists claim that because art is art, they should be allowed to do whatever they like to them? And if we legalized genetic art, the creation or modification of life simply because the result is visually pleasant, we will also be tempted to do anything else with genes, including dictating a child’s appearance at birth, because we will have established the principle that they can be manipulated for aesthetic purposes. Genetic art would be the route by which those forms of bioengineering which are unethical and dangerous could become accepted within society, bypassing the inhibitions and restrictions against them. It would however be acceptable if the life forms’ role as art was secondary, if they had been created in the first place and were being used to meet some vital practical need of Man’s without which he couldn’t survive. Then, reconfiguring them or making them behave so as to form attractive patterns would be no different in principle from Crufts provided we could be sure no distress was being caused them (dogs, horses etc don’t seem to mind taking part in such shows and may even appear to enjoy it).
The only primary purpose for creating whole new species which would be valid would be to in some way assist the survival of other life forms which already existed. If its creation was necessary in the first place it would then merely be an extension of our using animals for food or, in earlier times, as beasts of burden (if required for these purposes it would not need to be sentient). If the GELF fulfils some vital need which has to be satisfied or people will die then its creation in my opinion would be justified. There would have to be laws against ill-treating it in any case, as there are with farm animals, though permission to create it cannot be dependent upon those laws being observed as that would effectively imply an animal’s needs were as important as or greater than, in the long run, a human’s.
Again, it all depends on the reasons why we’re doing these things. Those reasons could of course be wrong and the consequences of our actions dangerous.
Or they may not be. I can see nothing objectionable with the transplantation of animal organs into humans given that we share quite a lot of our genes with other mammals in any case (although don't forget that this is a purely biological similarity; it shouldn't be used, as some have tried to use it in the past, to give animals the same moral and legal status as ourselves). Arnold Schwarzenegger having a pig's heart in order to preserve his life is no different really from someone being given an antidote to a poison when that antidote is derived from the blood or some other part of an animal's body. It may still have disturbing consequences, but only in combination with other factors.
Nor is creating an embryo that has DNA from three people, in the form this process currently takes, quite as monstrous a thing as it might seem. I’m not sure that something like giving a human being three parents could actually happen, since it is so grotesque and unthinkable a distortion of what is natural and normal that it may simply be impossible. But the way it is currently done is not so horrendous. Defective genes in a woman’s mitochondrial DNA are prevented from being passed on by being replaced in the egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a third party. The aim of the research is to eventually be able to prevent genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy. Presumably this can only be done if the child is conceived using IVF, assuming I have understood things correctly; which is why I am puzzled to read that the researchers are not allowed to let the embryo develop into a child, something which would appear to destroy the whole point of the process. But the use of this third party mitochondrial DNA in itself should not be so controversial, as mitochondrial DNA is responsible for the energy management systems in a human being rather than physical characteristics like hair colour or facial features. The project’s chief scientist has compared it to changing the batteries on a radio but not the radio itself. People will still be primarily the result of a union between their mother and father – i.e., two people. And after all, we can all be said to have our ancestors’ genes in us as well as our immediate parents’, grandparents, etc.
The real issue is whether (human) embryo research in itself is acceptable. It is this form of research which, along with cloning and genetic engineering, is the main area of controversy. There has been much concern about its ethical implications. Some express fears that it may result, when allied with genetic engineering, in attempts to create the "perfect embryo" – essentially the same thing as the “designer baby”, and the forerunner of a supposed master race. This issue will be discussed later on. There is no doubt that embryo research can benefit Mankind, particularly in the way of eradicating disease and identifying illnesses and deformities before birth so they can be corrected, and as with genetic engineering one may feel that it should not be banned outright but allowed to proceed under strict control. Until recently I would have said that there is a difference between the two issues in that the creation of human embryos for scientific research, even if such research has a purely medical purpose, is in principle morally wrong (though not in the sense that the intentions behind it are necessarily evil). What constitutes the nucleus of a human being, and is thus in itself dignified, has its dignity compromised by being made a test bed which can be experimented on, and once no longer needed discarded; and this degradation is made worse when embryos are patented and turned into saleable commodities by biotech companies. The debasement of the human condition would be such that not even the survival of our species could justify it.
Stem cell research has, however, transformed the situation somewhat. Stem cells are those which, although containing the blueprint for a complete organism, have not yet begun to differentiate into the various kinds of tissue. They fall into two categories: those taken from the tissue of adults, and those taken from blastocysts – embryos approximately 4-5 days old and consisting of 50-150 cells. Both are important sources of information on potential ways of curing disease and healing crippling injuries. In either case, we do not have anything which could yet be called a human being. The matter is still controversial in the case of blastocysts (which are destroyed in course of the research), and many countries have banned using them for the time being. Since, however, the embryo is at such an early stage of development I don’t believe that there are moral grounds for raising an objection. Embryo research is not degrading to the human condition if stem cells are being used, and its commercialisation, with private firms buying the embryos or the cells themselves to use in their experiments, therefore no more wrong than the commercialisation of anything else. As with euthanasia, the continuation in the long run of stem cell research is probably inevitable anyway because of the pressure there will be – from the public, professionals or both – to deal with the diseases and illnesses that it can help cure, especially with an ageing population which through the cost of caring for it will put severe pressure on everyone else unless we are to solve the problem by eugenics.
The real issue is the particular dilemmas that embryo research has led to, whether or not it is acceptable in principle. Perhaps the most agonising stems from our ability to freeze embryos, or sperm, so that if a child is desired by either a couple or a single parent but the present time is for some reason not thought a convenient one to have it, it may be conceived and born at a later date instead. I can see nothing wrong in this unless perhaps the time in the parent's life when they have it would not be convenient for the child. And then we are into the whole question of whether it is right under any circumstances to restrict the parent’s/parents' freedom. We may say that the latter is/are wrong to be raising a child when they are too old to fulfil their parental functions properly; but we do this anyway in the case of older parents who have produced children in the normal manner, and we don't attempt to legally prevent them doing so.
However, there is scope for complications to arise, particularly if relationships break down. Michael Cohen in 101 Philosophy Problems presents us with the following scenario. "Mrs Green wants to go on a climbing holiday. A couple of days before, she finds out that she has accidentally become pregnant. Immediately she goes to hospital and has the embryo removed and placed in a deep freeze. She plans to come back, after the holiday, and have the embryo reimplanted, and then have her and Mr Green's baby. If all goes as expected, is Mrs Green doing anything wrong in planning to do this?"
There is no wrong involved that I can see. Removing an embryo, freezing it and then replanting it is not the same thing as destroying it. No actual harm is being done. Mrs Green has asserted her freedom over her own affairs in a way that hasn't inflicted any damage on what some might view as the interests of the embryo. It is possible that a fire, terrorist attack or other disaster might destroy the hospital where the embryo is in storage but the likelihood of this happening is so remote, on the whole, that it makes no difference to the argument (although someone opposing the argument might nevertheless fasten on it).
"But what if the following scenarios happen instead: (1) While Mrs Green is on holiday she meets someone much nicer than Mr Green, and when she comes back she promptly divorces Mr Green. She has her new boyfriend's baby instead and the earlier embryo is destroyed. (2) Mrs Green simply changes her mind whilst on holiday about having a baby, and when she gets back she tells the hospital to destroy the embryo."
In both cases Mrs Green is of course being very mercenary. Unless perhaps the embryo is still at a very early stage of development, her actions are damaging to human dignity and the sanctity of life, for human embryos are not commodities to be “destroyed” like unwanted rubbish once you decide you no longer need them. She is however asserting her rights over her own body. Because she does not want to have this particular baby she would lose those rights if she was forced to, as much as if she didn’t want a child at all. Her assertion of her freedom is indirect because the embryo is not yet inside her body, but nonetheless there is a freedom to (quite correctly) defend. If we grant that freedom in the case of abortion we must grant it here too. It is acceptable for her to be allowed to destroy the embryo if she wants to eliminate all possibility of it developing into a child which she might feel responsible for, but does not love. Morally, the issue is that in scenario(1) she has treated Mr Green very badly and therefore, by extension, destroyed the embryo unjustly; while in scenario(2), though she has not indicated any intention to divorce Mr Green, she has acted unethically – in fact, disgracefully – by not at least consulting him as to his feelings. Within her rights as she is, that does not mean her conduct cannot be criticised. In respect to scenario(1) it is of course true that marriages can break down irretrievably, but when someone ditches their husband as a result of being swept off their feet by a holiday romance we are justly inclined to take a less sympathetic view of things. Mrs Green should think again.
Another very nasty and heartbreaking situation arises when the female parent wishes sperm/an embryo to be used to create a child by being implanted in her, but the male opposes this. Not long ago a father won a high court case in which he had defended his right to prevent his former partner using his frozen sperm to impregnate herself. From the woman’s point of view it was particularly important to have the child because she was approaching the age where she would be unable to bear one, at least without the risk of serious complications. It is an agonising business, but one where I personally would tend to take the father’s side, albeit very reluctantly. Once the sperm is in the woman’s body and a child has been conceived by it it cannot be retrieved in any case without terminating a life already begun (and going against the mother’s wishes, which means the pro-choice argument in favour of abortion does not apply). Most people would rightly regard such an action as abhorrent. But if the sperm is not yet in the woman’s body it can still be regarded as the man’s property, not to be used without his consent, and redeemable without causing physical damage to another individual (if the child is not conceived in the first place it will never know that it has not been conceived). Otherwise, a man is left feeling that his body or an intimate product of it, in this case particularly intimate because of its nature, is not his property but has in a sense been made that of the state so another person can procreate. The degrading effect of this upon society would be intolerable, and alarming in its implications. There is a need therefore to uphold the father’s wishes, to which the fact that he may be being mean or cruel in denying the prospective mother the right to use the sperm makes no difference, I’m afraid – despite the psychological damage caused her by refusing her request. In abortion it is the mother’s wishes that should come first, here it is the father’s. (And may God forgive him).
For a woman to have a baby by a dead husband/partner, if she is already pregnant, is quite acceptable. The child may grow up without any kind of father figure if the mother chooses to remain single, but this consideration is offset by the total reasonableness of the desire to have the child and so commemmorate the dead loved one. The only requirement should be that there is proven to have been consent on the part of the deceased (i.e they agreed it should be done in the event of their death and confirmed it in some visible form); or that he is not known to have stipulated she should not have the baby, in which case it would seem both reasonable and humane to give the matter the benefit of the doubt.
A few words need to be said on the subject of IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation). It is not wrong in itself provided it is for the benefit of an actual couple or the mother is acting in accord with the wishes of a deceased father. However, women can have children by artificial insemination while preferring to remain single. They do of course have perfect freedom to do this, but that doesn't mean it is right. The child will grow up without a biological father. This may not matter if (a) s/he is told who their biological father is and is old enough to understand the situation, and (b) their mother decides to live with and marry another man who is sufficiently caring and affectionate towards them to fulfil all the most important requirements that a father should. But what if all contact with the biological father is lost or his identity is never known in the first place (I think most of us like to know who our biological parents are, even if they don't perform their emotional functions in the way they should)? And if she wishes to remain single then obviously our "substitute father" is never going to enter into the equation.
Unless it’s in line with the wishes of a dead father the mother is deliberately opting for a course of action which could prove socially damaging. If she believes what she is doing is ethically acceptable, she is implying there is nothing harmful in the "single parent and child" arrangement, that it will do just as well socially and psychologically as the conventional "wife, husband and child(ren)" set-up. But then why is it that the latter has been the norm all through Man's past history and still is, roughly speaking, today? The situation may be convenient for the mother but it is not convenient for the child. However, since good parenting - and altruism generally - are not things one can force on people, and it would be morally objectionable to do so since one debases virtue by making it compulsory, we have no choice but to allow the mother to behave in this way.
There is a limit to how far one person, whatever their social position and the responsibilities they have to discharge, can be expected to subordinate their needs and desires to those of others (including within that category society in general; I believe this to be the case where abortion is concerned, and so do not recommend that a mother who both feels emotionally and physically unable to bring up her child yet is distressed at the idea of adoption and its possible consequences be forced to have it. It could be that a mother who wants to conceive a child through artificial insemination finds her desire for independence and a career (two things which might be adversely affected if she had a partner) and her desire for a child to be equally powerful and irresistible, and so seeks to reconcile them through articial insemination. On these grounds, I believe we have little option but to allow freedom of choice regardless of the implications.

One consequence of advances in the science of tissue transplantation and organ donation is that they enable parents to have a child primarily to serve as a donor (of tissue samples rather than complete organs) to keep an existing child, whose DNA is sufficiently similar to its own and with whose tissue it is therefore compatible, avoiding rejection problems, alive (at no physical cost to itself) when they would not otherwise have had it. This to many debases what ought to be the whole purpose of childbirth; the child should be brought into the world purely for its own sake, in other words not as a useful commodity for the benefit of others, which dehumanises the process. There is undoubtedly something disturbing about the practice. It cannot be denied that without the need to provide a suitable tissue donor for its brother or sister the child would not have been born; there is bound to be the risk that when it eventually learns this it will suffer severe emotional shock, even if the intentions of the parents towards it once it is born are the best possible, and that is in addition to the other dangers which stem from this inescapable fact. In those cases which have already occurred where a child has been conceived to keep another alive, the parents have professed their willingness to love and care for the donor child as much as they do the first; it may well be they are sincere, and that most other parents in this situation would also be sincere. How, though, could one possibly be sure that all parents would live up to this promise in the long run? If in enough cases they do not, serious moral and spiritual damage is inflicted on society.
What can be done in a noble spirit can also be done in an ignoble one. Even as it is, with no medical dilemmas necessarily involved,
there have been plenty of cases where parents’ feelings for a child have evaporated once it has been born, leading to neglect or ill-treatment, often precisely because more affection is felt for one of its siblings. In this case of “donor” children they might, in some cases anyway, be merely professing good intent so that the law will give them what they want.
And in practice, if not entirely in principle, having a child to serve as a tissue donor for another is only a few steps from breeding humans for spare parts anyway. The trouble is that once the principle is accepted that you can conceive and bear a child for reasons other than the child’s own benefit, it can be misused at a later date by those whose motives for wanting it be born are less altruistic than we would prefer. If the idea of the practice, which has now become established, appeals to people sufficiently they will not bother about the principle.
The scenario might be thought less tragic if the donor child were given up for adoption, perhaps because the parents felt they could not cope with two, the second having in any case been conceived partly for the benefit of the first. After all, adoption is not illegal, and its consequences often not harmful. But like the very conception of a child for reasons unconnected with its own benefit, to bear one which would deliberately not be incorporated into the family unit but given to another, if it happened on a more widespread scale (depending on how many donor children there are going to be in the future) and because of circumstances different from those in which it has been thought necessary in the past, would be a dehumanisation and thus a degradation of the parent-child relationship and what it represents. In what is meant to be both a biological and an emotional/spiritual experience – and it’s that in which its sublime nature consists – the child is potentially at any rate a member of the family into which it is born, even if it was illegitimate and unplanned, as may be the case, and the “family” consisted of just a single mother. The severing of this relationship wouldn’t be permanently harmful if we could be sure the parents would establish contact with the adoptee at a suitable later time and restore their ties with them, but if they were of the selfish kind (possessive towards the one child and uncaring towards the other) they would turn their backs on it once adopted and regard the matter as being permanently out of their hands.

Still more dilemmas originate from our increasing ability to understand and influence genes. Genetic engineering will be, in the twenty-first century, a scientific advance comparable in its importance to, say, railways in the nineteenth. The Human Genome Project, which allows us to map out the entire human genetic code, gives us the ability to identify those genes which will lead to disease or deformity (or to characteristics such as homosexuality which, although not everyone would classify them as diseases, are nevertheless still seen by some as undesirable) in an individual prior to their birth, and thus manipulate them to remove the problem (something easier done when the embryo is still developing in the womb than when it is a fully formed, live baby). Genetic science is starting to make possible the removal of genes from a human or animal or the addition to that human or animal of genes from another human or animal; if the latter, the donor may be of an entirely different species. The aim again is to give the recipient new qualities or eliminate those that are undesirable. To mention just two of the technology’s applications, crops and cattle can be made hardier and beans given human genes to make them produce human proteins that can be used in medicine.
The issue of whether GM (genetically modified) crops, or any genetic engineering in agriculture, has harmful physical consequences is a practical and scientific one, with the reservation of course that it might be morally irresponsible to market them if they did have such side-effects. That would still leave the ethical ramifications. There is the seeming hideousness of putting genes from a human being into a tomato, for example; it just feels wrong, even if in practical terms there is nothing to worry about. Such things seem physically grotesque both in themselves and because they are so clearly against nature. It is something that is not physically quantifiable and indeed altogether difficult to describe in words; it’s just the idea of it which gives rise to a certain feeling of revulsion. The best I can do to explain and justify my position on this matter is to say that if we can mix the genes of vastly different species, or our own genes with those of animals – or for that matter transplant animal organs into human bodies as part of surgery, although here there’s a much more immediate justification in terms of benefiting lives (and I argued earlier that it isn’t wrong in itself), it is such a departure from what has normally been considered right and acceptable that if we are prepared to see nothing wrong in it we will see nothing wrong in anything else either. The thing to be borne in mind is that if GM foods etc are in the end necessary for human survival, and they might be given current and future pressures on resources along with the adverse environmental consequences of global warming, we won’t if we don’t make use of them be able to discuss whether or not they’re ethically acceptable anyway. Hence they are both inevitable and desirable, whatever that means to us in the long run.
Perhaps the most commonly (and by now, it has to be said, the most predictable) expressed fear about genetic engineering is that the ability to implant or remove genes before birth will result in the creation, either by parents or the state, of a supposed “master race.” The wrongness of trying to do such a thing is so obvious it doesn’t really need discussing. As for whether it would be possible, that’s another matter. In many ways the "master race" fear is exaggerated, partly because there is of course no such thing as one. Most of us know that it is not intelligence, strength, good looks, ethnicity, or cultural talent which makes someone a good human being, but virtue, which is something the current, "imperfect" version of humanity can still possess. A child created by Nazi-style genetic manipulation and breeding would not be any more or less a human being than anyone else in this respect, despite the circumstances of its birth (those children who were born and raised as part of Nazi selective breeding programmes by being placed with particular parents, with the aim of creating a pure Aryan race, and who are now adults behave just like anyone else). Nor could it be guaranteed that the child would share the philosophy of its creators, unless that is something which can be bred into people scientifically and not through education and environment, which I doubt is the case since we must be capable of having our own thoughts in order to possess any self-consciousness. If it had virtue it would at least try not to use any exceptional powers it possessed to oppress those less superlative.
But people could do a lot of damage in the belief that it is desirable and possible to create a master race – after all, Hitler did. That is of course to some extent a political matter. However the technology, fortunately not really available to Hitler (Josef Mengele was a quack, if a dangerous one) could perhaps be developed with which someone might attempt, at least, to put their crazy ideas into practice. You cannot make someone superior in the sense of being more valuable than another, because everyone has the same worth even if, in the case of antisocial people who don’t contribute much to life other than what is harmful, it’s only potential. However a nation or race, because its leaders believed it was superior or because it was thought to be sufficiently under threat from another nation or race, could be given powers which bestowed on them important advantages over other humans; the genes could be implanted either in the population as a whole, who would naturally welcome the augmentation, or in the police and armed forces charged with their defence. By implanting within a person the right genes from either another human or an animal they could be made physically stronger and more resilient. Genetically augmented people could also be cloned so there’d be more of them to serve as soldiers, policemen, spies or in any other capacity where they could be useful to the ruling regime. A cloned/genetically engineered army wouldn’t necessarily be without any thought or will of its own, but it could be controlled by the same means that any regime uses to enforce its servants’ obedience, the psychology of discipline and threat of punishment (which in totalitarian states could mean execution and perhaps victimisation of one’s family). But here again, what we are seeking to establish is the wrongness of the act not whether it is possible; in this case, I don’t know whether it is or not.
It would be most alarming and potentially dangerous if it was the state that had the power to alter human genetic make-up. But there are dangers enough if parents or other relatives could do it; in other words, if it became a fashion among the public to have children with certain characteristics. They might prefer a blond(e) child over a dark-haired one, or a male child over a female, or seek to give their offspring the qualities that would make them an Olympic standard athlete (they might not have the mental inclination to develop their physical attributes in that way, their interests perhaps lying more with the intellectual side of things, which means they would have to be mentally influenced as well – a rather nasty idea – if the genetics were capable of having that effect). The "designer baby" is undoubtedly an abhorrence. The child itself may not be anything grotesque or evil, but the process by which it comes about is certainly disturbing. The wonder of childbirth in the normal fashion is of course so sublime that it is difficult to express in words; suffice to say the whole beauty of a child is that its form is a product of nature rather than conscious human planning, something that delights us precisely because we did not know how it was going to turn out, even it is sure to be like us to some extent. If you can correctly analyse and predict, or deliberately fashion, it all that wonder is destroyed. We may of course be justly proud of something we have created in this way, as with a painting or novel, but it’s clear to all of us that that isn’t why a child is valuable. To contrive it in all its mental and physical details cheapens and degrades it. Things would get even worse if commercial considerations entered into them and it was a matter of parents buying, if wealthy enough, the genetic characteristics they wanted their children to have. It probably would be, given that we live in a basically capitalist society – and did before Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman – and that even if private companies weren’t involved, the state would want the money to fund an increasingly complex and overpopulated society. Such a situation would be abhorrent for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly, although it may be acceptable to commercialise stem cells it is not so acceptable to commercialise the qualities which are intended to go into the actual, adult human being; for then you are in effect commercialising the human being themselves (the stem cell is not a human) and that is far too great a compromise of dignity. We must either ban genetic engineering in this form altogether (the most preferable option) or not make acquiring the characteristics a matter of finance. Secondly, if only the wealthiest people could afford to do it this would not only reinforce social divisions but widen them in a particularly ugly way. We would have an elite of beautiful people who would be much better looking and statuesque than the rest of society, who they’d consequently be tempted to despise – and if they were also physically stronger, could much more easily dominate and keep in their place.
There would be no problem in altering the genetic characteristics of farm animals, since by domesticating them the way he has Man has already taken the step of removing them to some extent from the wholly natural world. He has been selectively breeding them for thousands of years. It is also possible that adult human individuals might themselves wish to be changed genetically, supposing the technology were ever such as to permit this to be done post-natally (using viruses as the carrier for the implanted genes might be one way). Here there would be less controversy, since for one thing people ought to have a right to choose their physical appearance and configuration – entailing, since free will was involved in a way it wouldn’t be with children, that there was nothing wrong with the practice or in commercialising it either (since the desired characteristics would probably have to be bought as with a family being the purchaser). It’s already possible for people to change their sex and the general opinion of society is that they should be allowed to if an imperfect world has resulted in them not being happy the way they are; the practice is harmless – it doesn’t happen often enough to upset the balance of the sexes – and shouldn’t be condemned. People can also choose to look like members of another ethnic group (if that was what Michael Jackson was trying to do when he had his plastic surgery, the results of which might fairly be described as outlandish). We can also change the profile of our face, the shape of our chin or nose or the set of our jaw, on the operating table; dye our hair. In some cases the desire behind the revamp might be questionable, indicative of psychological weakness or trauma to which a different and probably healthier remedy might be found if the person concerned only put their minds to it; we shouldn’t be so obsessed with what we look like or ashamed by it. Or there might simply be a genuine wish for self-improvement. We can also choose to find their choice not to our aesthetic liking. Whatever the motive, however, there is a public acceptance that those who can afford any or all these alterations ought to be allowed in a free society to have them; genetic engineering would simply be a change in the means, not the end. The only cases where it could be objected to would be those where someone wanted to give themselves abilities, such as telekinesis (if the property existed and could be genetically transferred) or exceptional physical strength, which could be harmful to others if, for example, they lost their temper; here, all things being equal, society would see every sense in prohibiting such a choice. The only reservation which remains is that as with whole families buying the product, it might be only the wealthier members of society that could exercise their freedom to choose.
Genetic engineering seems most justifiable when we are talking about curing an undoubted illness or disability (“gene therapy”). There must be many people, not just parents, who, given the chance to eliminate undeniable mental or physical defects in a child, would do so. I suspect most of us would. We may leave aside here those rather scary people who embrace a narrow-minded and very fundamentalist kind of Christianity and think that if a child is born with spina bifida it is in some way God’s will, which they should not seek to oppose.
Unfortunately this doesn’t eliminate the possible social problems since there is some controversy over whether or not certain things should be regarded as illnesses. Getting rid of the latter is fine as it’s something we’d all do if we could. But what about the gene that causes homosexuality? To some the condition is an illness, and the fact that the political correctness which insists it isn’t happens to be common among a sufficient number of influential people for that philosophy to be dominant makes no difference to their views. To others the gene merely disposes one to behave in a different way from most of the rest of society. Both views can be held with passion and sincerity and this makes the issue being raised here potentially more bitter and divisive. Parents who honestly believe that homosexuality is undesirable, or who wish quite reasonably out of love and compassion to spare the child the psychological trauma that often accompanies the realisation one has desires they may not be entirely comfortable with – even if that trauma can be overcome by counselling plus a strong will - will want the gene removed. Gay rights activists, however, will see this as insulting because of the implication that their lifestyle is based on something harmful. Still others feel that a person should have the right to choose his or her sexuality, regardless of whether their choice is right or wrong. Obviously, identifying and removing the "gay gene" before birth is not according them that right. I concede that it’s a matter of opinion whether homosexuality is a good thing, a bad thing, or morally neutral; and if it is eradicated, we will therefore be imposing on society our own particular view of what is correct. Besides that, it is in such matters as making the choice and overcoming any psychological torment uncertainty over sexuality might cause that we build character and become fully adjusted to life’s vicissitudes. And yet I suspect that some parents at least would, if they found out that their child was a potential homosexual, seek to have the offending gene removed; it might seem ludicrous not to do so and thus avoid any possible future hang-ups on the part of the child. Besides, they might by their action be ensuring that they had grandchildren to carry on their line – a selfish but also thoroughly forgiveable motive – if it turned out for whatever reason that no other natural child of theirs survived. Given this and the desire to allow the child a life free of potential complications, it seems thoroughly wrong to deny them their wish. The matter wouldn’t be resolved by keeping the existence of the gay gene, once identified, in unborn babies a secret, because the parents would be very angry at not having been told. This is another area where we will have to allow freedom of choice despite the awkward situations it might result in.
The other, more general problem with genetic engineering is that if, by the nature and variety of the different genes people were given, it resulted in immunity against a wider range of diseases, injuries being healed at a much faster rate, and the ability to perform strenuous tasks with a minimum of effort – or have a genetically-engineered organism do them for you – it could result in a life so easy much of the time that we’d become idle and weak from lack of exercise and lose any incentive to improve ourselves. The fact that we might still suffer from mental adversity on occasions, for one reason or another wouldn’t reduce the social damage created.
Terminal boredom, threats to the moral tone of society and potential for causing social disharmony are, one must assume, likely hazards of genetic engineering. Yet it seems totally ludicrous not to take any opportunities it offers, once they have become fully available, to cure obvious and damaging illnesses and diseases. Putting up with the various ailments might seem the safest option, if hardly a palatable one, given that they are problems we are at least familiar with whereas genetic engineering presents us with a whole minefield of uncertainties. But the human mind isn’t made that way – perhaps if we were that objectively rational we wouldn’t be human - and we may have no choice in any case if global warming means the incidence of many diseases and other natural hazards will increase, along with their range. Those diseases and natural hazards may become such a threat to life and health that people will demand gene therapy if it enables them to cope with that threat, and make a fuss – quite possibly a violent fuss – if they don’t get it.
At the moment, however, we still cannot be sure just how much genetic engineering will make possible, since it’s still in its relevant infancy. From the standpoint of the present time, it includes such a wide range of activities, some of which may turn out to be harmless or whose harmful consequences are arguably outweighed by their beneficial ones, that banning it in principle would be clumsy and unwise. The aim should be rather to seek an effective system of controls over its use.

As well as genes, we have come to understand much about the process of cell development in living matter and this has led us to the science of cloning. In its best-known form cloning, still a relatively new practice, involves taking the nucleus of a cell from a living organism and implanting it in a reproductive cell of an organism of the same species, from which the nucleus has been removed. This is then inserted into the womb of a female of the species where it grows into an embryo, a foetus and finally a baby before being born in the normal fashion. The new organism is an almost identical copy of that from which the cell it developed was taken, since it didn’t come about in the same way – at least, not directly – as one growing from an egg fertilised by a sperm usually does, i.e. through sexual intercourse between a male and a female partner.
Animals have been successfully cloned and the cloning of humans is thought to be not far away. The cloning for purposes of medical research of human embryos is allowed and has already taken place, although only at a very early state of the embryo’s development. The intention is that the embryos are destroyed after their fourteenth day of life, which is when the earliest signs of a nervous system can be seen (so in terms of physical pain and suffering, no wrong is being committed). This is cloning in a different sense from creating Dolly the sheep, recreating Shakespeare or bringing into existence a vast army of super-soldiers.
At the moment, it seems likely to be some decades before the technical problems involved in cloning are solved in such a way as to permit the creation of a complete human baby, which will grow into a normal adult individual, out of the tissue of another (this is known as reproductive cloning). Animals are the only example we have to go by and there the success rate has not been high; Dolly was born only after 277 eggs were used to create 29 embryos, which produced three lambs at birth, only one of which lived. Seventy calves have been created from 9000 attempts and one-third of them died young; Prometea (the first horse clone) took 328 attempts to create. Although Dolly’s early death is thought to have been due to a respiratory infection common among sheep raised in certain conditions, there does seem to be some fear that cloned tissue may be particularly liable to degeneration. If these problems do exist and cannot be overcome, there is no doubt that full human cloning would never be allowed, since it would undoubtedly be cruel for the clone if it could only sicken and die, nor would anyone see any point in attempting it.
But supposing the problems can be overcome, what are the practical and moral objections to cloning? Perhaps the real issue with it is not that it is wrong in any circumstances, but rather the particular reason you had for doing it, even if in most cases we ended up ruling it out. With animals, provided the technology can be perfected to produce healthy specimens – otherwise it would be both cruel and pointless - I can see nothing wrong with it provide certain guidelines are followed. (If an animal clone begins to degenerate after having fulfilled whatever purpose it was brought into existence for, however long that process takes, it should then be humanely destroyed.) If more animals are needed for food or for any other reason to do with human welfare or survival, then cloning is acceptable as long as no more specimens are produced than is absolutely necessary (which if the animals were to be released into the wild could be dangerous to the ecosystem and inconvenient for humans).
Because an all-important consideration would be that of not interfering unduly in the balance of nature. Just as we should be careful to avoid animal overpopulation, we should also be cautious where bringing back extinct species is concerned. Recreating the dinosaurs would be done out of scientific curiosity and not practical need and is therefore ruled out, I’m afraid, when reintroducing them into an ecosystem which has changed considerably from the one they knew may well prove disastrous. We may of course be seeking to benefit not just Man but the ecology as a whole. Where we are recreating a species we ourselves have killed off, it may seem an atonement for our previous sins and therefore just; but that in itself does not legitimise it because the ecosystem could still have changed, and thus be disrupted by their re-entry into it. If the ecosystem is not liable to be adversely affected, then the recreation is a good thing. Cloning could also take place for the purposes of legitimate zoological research or conservation.
It occurs to me that human cloning could add to the general population and thus to overcrowding, or maintain it at its present large and growing size, at a time when we can least afford it. But this depends on what scale it is practised. Large-scale cloning would only be thought necessary if there had been a massive loss of population, and since the present trend worldwide is towards population growth it is unlikely for the foreseeable future to be attempted. However, although it causes no problems when there are a relatively small number of identical twins in existence, to have too many people looking the same, or very similar, would cause difficulties in interpersonal relationships. We might find it difficult to identify with others, since that identification depends on them being different both to each other and to ourselves and in a way which is easily perceivable. Whether this actually would, in the event, be a hazard or whether we would simply develop a new way of determining individuality (for actually the clones wouldn’t all be quite the same) is not in fact clear but I wouldn’t want to take the risk. We might have to outlaw for social reasons what would be essential for practical ones. And too many clones would reduce the diversity of people, which is of course a diversity of individuals more than it is one of ethnic groups, to such a degree as to impoverish the human condition beyond measure.
Meanwhile, the most defensible reason for cloning humans would be to help couples who have fertility problems and have not benefited from in vitro fertilisation, which doesn't always work (it is allowed in such cases). It can either be used to create a child who cannot be brought into the world through the normal means, or to assist research into the causes, not always known to scientists, of infertility and miscarriage. In the latter case it would be a form of what is called therapeutic cloning, and might well render reproductive cloning unnecessary anyway. In the former case, where reproductive cloning is desired, the parents would either not have been able to conceive in the first instance or the aim would be to replace, presumably from a sample of their tissue, an individual who had died, one or both parents then becoming infertile for some reason. In these cases it would be both humane and probably harmless to permit the cloning. It would be no different morally from having a new child by normal reproductive methods. There might have to be laws to stop the parents making multiple copies of the child; it’s not clear why they would want to or what exactly the problem would be it if they did, but the point is that the cloning would not be wrong in itself.
There is no reason why clones should necessarily be unhappy either, provided they are healthy. A clone might be upset and confused if it found out its parents weren’t its parents in the same sense as anyone else’s, but it could be told when it was older, the same as with children who are adopted. If one therefore objects to cloning in principle one should also object to adoption.
Clones might still have problems deciding who their parents were, but not more so than children born from dysfunctional relationships, some of whom are quite happy to regard someone to whom they are not biologically related as “father” or “mother”. There might be some confusion over the clone's exact relationship with its progenitors and how to describe it, but no more so than is sometimes caused by marital breakdowns and remarriages. A system of designations and associations could be worked out that would satisfy most people. If I marry and have a child, and that child dies but is then cloned, the clone would be the child’s brother/sister and I and my wife its parents because in a sense the cloning would merely be an extension of what happened when we got together and had the original child; they’d have originated, indirectly, from the same set of cells as the sibling, cells which grew from a union of their mother’s egg and their father’s sperm. My brothers/sisters would be the clone’s uncles and aunts and any children the clone had my grandchildren. Things seem a little less acceptable if the clone is derived from the tissue of one of the parents; since it was biologically related only to that one, the other would be not its father or mother but something analogous to its step-father or mother, and you’d also be raising as your son/daughter what was really your brother/sister. Even here, though, it’s possible to ask how much harm would really be done. Lots of people have had stepfathers or mothers, or siblings of a different age group, and got on perfectly well with them. And when you grow to maturity your relationship with your parent changes, in the sense that as well as your still being their child the two of you are blokes (or girls) together – friends, in the same way that two people of different ages or sexes can be. The situation is in a way no more daft or problematical than having an uncle or aunt the same, or a similar age, to yourself (of which there have been quite a few examples). We have to remember that there are plenty who live quite happily with foster parents who aren’t biologically related to them at all, except through the common bond of being human, and can adjust to not even knowing who those parents to whom they do have a biological connection are (sometimes they may not want to know!). Once this is taken into account there’s less reason to suppose cloning will necessarily lead to damaging confusion in inter-personal relationships except when it involves surrogate motherhood, the “real” mother not being able to bear a child whatever the means by which it was conceived. Cloned children might be teased at first by their peers but the value of doing so would diminish as cloning became more common.
The other main reason for reproductive cloning would be to recreate an individual, or individuals, whose skills might be needed for a particular and very important purpose. What this might be is hard to say but the cloning would perhaps be justified if the cloned individual’s talents could be used to save lives; the good of the many would outweigh the good of the one (if its being born is somehow an injury to the clone). Not everyone however would be prepared to take such a utilitarian view (I’m perhaps just a bit more ruthless than others). And as with having a child to serve as a tissue donor for another, once you have established the principle, however correct, that someone can be brought into the world primarily for the benefit of others it leaves the way open for all kinds of misuse of science, particularly by totalitarian governments; genetically engineered humans (or other life forms for that matter) to serve as slave labour is one possibility that comes to mind. This would be so even if one made every effort to ensure the clone was treated with the same respect and accorded the same dignity, rights and opportunities for happiness as anybody else. That’s not the issue anyway since once the clone was old enough to think about such matters it would obviously be grateful for the fact of its birth, assuming it enjoyed at least a reasonable quality of life and could come to terms with its parenthood, and most people would see no reason not to provide it with all its needs. Even if we did not approve of the process by which it came into the world, to regard it as tainted and a bastard for that reason would in today’s society be as absurd as stigmatising illegitimate children once was. It’s debatable whether someone would be cloned for the reasons we’ve been talking about anyhow, since a clone is not from the start a fully-formed adult; once born it has to be allowed to grow to maturity and it may therefore be some years before you can reap the benefit of its skills. This mightn’t matter if you needed the skills in, say, twenty or thirty years’ time rather than now (again I don’t know what the precise situation making all this necessary would be). Yet even so there remains one important variable which could render the whole process pointless, from the point of view of its utilitarian value to society. A clone isn’t a completely identical copy of its original because any organism developing from a single cell undergoes mutations; it’s part of natural selection. The clone may not actually have all the skills you desire so sorely to harness. Or it might not have the mental inclination or aptitude to make full use of them – this is a different business altogether – and then to avoid the whole thing having been pointless, and make sure society’s needs were met, you’d have to force it to work for you, which raises once more the whole nightmarish spectre of an alliance between science and totalitarianism, even though the clone would probably be prepared to comply if the danger to society was great enough to threaten itself. Any danger less serious might not have been of sufficient magnitude to justify its being created in the first place, but if it were only a relatively small number of people who were endangered we might still find ourselves in the awful position of needing to bring some human lives into existence to benefit others.
In the debate on the ethics of cloning there are some misconceptions going around. The creation of a "master race" would be more a matter of genetic engineering than of cloning, although the former is criticised for the same kind of reasons as the latter. Having created one's "perfect" embryo or person, one might of course then seek to clone it so as to have a whole army of “perfect” people, but cloning itself would not have been used for its actual creation. The clone wouldn’t necessarily share the opinions of its creators any more than a genetically engineered life form would, as it would effectively amount to the same thing (since the purpose, to create an army of obedient super-soldiers, would be the same). Then there are the factors of a clone’s never being entirely identical to its original, and of free will making it inevitable that a clone will possess individuality in more than a numerical sense. You could clone the equipment the person needed to make the decision (i.e., the brain) but you couldn’t necessarily clone the decision itself.
Therapeutic cloning involves the taking of stem cells from embryos and using them to grow organs for transplanting, or to regenerate diseased parts of a body. I don’t see how we can have any quarrel with it. Growing a new ear, say, from a stem cell so that it can be grafted onto someone who has lost one may sound gruesome but it is not unethical. The real moral problems lie elsewhere, but they stem from the fact that growing whole new ears, hands etc, in themselves, in lab conditions before transplanting them onto a body is gruesome. If we can do such a thing, along with mix our genes with those of other species or receive organs from them, it is such a departure from what has normally been considered acceptable that if we are prepared to see nothing wrong in it then we may develop an “anything goes” mentality on these questions. We may end up allowing the creation of chimeras, hybrids beween animals and humans, if we thought there was some medical or scientific benefit to be derived from it (the fusing of animal and human embryos has already taken place). At the same time, one imagines the completed ears would be put on the market. Something about the commercial availability of a complete, disembodied human ear sitting in its culture dish in a laboratory – rather than just its surgical implantation - chills the blood. There would be a double debasement whereas there would only be one if the ear was not marketable but given free on the NHS. It wouldn’t make any difference if there were privately sold ears and ones available on the NHS (perhaps of not quite the same quality); there would still be privately purchaseable ears. Trouble is, it is hard to see a parliamentary commission banning the whole practice because it seems grotesque and is done privately, rather than for one of those reasons or the other. The objection somehow seems vague, when considered rationally, and the human mind would therefore find it hard to work with. And someone who had lost an ear in an accident would be quite prepared to put up with something the thought of which might be disturbing, but nonetheless had an obvious practical value, if meant that they could replace it. (If there is anything wrong with the business, it is not stem cell research in itself which is questionable but rather its application, the use to which it is being put).
Cloning, in itself, isn’t something that’s wrong in principle. It doesn’t deny the sacrosanct individuality of each (God-created, in the Christian view) person because human clones would in practice be no more different from identical twins, who (a) represent a form of natural cloning and (b) aren’t 100% identical anyway. Whether it’s wrong depends on why it’s being done and whether in each case the arguments for it outweigh the arguments against. If the technology, still in its infancy, can be improved so that clones suffer no particular health problems, then cloning is not something which on either moral or practical grounds should be ruled out altogether: like genetic engineering, it may be good or bad in its effects. Regulation rather than outright banning should be the correct response to it.
Some of the applications of cloning and genetic engineering ought not, strictly speaking to be allowed. Others may be acceptable in themselves but nonetheless the cloning of human embryos for medical purposes, even if they are blastocysts, along with their marketing, creates when combined with other new biotechnologies and in a Thatcherite society a mindset where anything is acceptable if it has some practical need and you can make money out of it – something which isn’t in fact the case. Again, the thing to be borne in mind is that with the medical advantages so obvious, and increasingly important in a world which is becoming more and more dangerous with global warming threatening to spread new diseases and revive old ones and where the strain of caring for the seriously ill is placing an intolerable burden on the ability of health services to cope, it will be impossible in the long run to resist pressure for the research to continue. If any debasement of the human condition is involved, it will be impossible to avoid it. Something in our nature makes certain courses of action irresistible despite their dangers, and this will be particularly true when there is an obvious benefit to be gained from the point of view of such an important consideration as saving life. All I have been able to say is what I think should or should not be done; whether it will be or won’t be done is another matter. The dangers of recent advancements in medical and biological science have already been discussed in my book Facing The End, whose premise and essential message you are free to take or leave, and I don’t propose to do so again here. It is not within my power to make the rather depressing and worrying scenarios the advances give rise to any more palatable. All we can hope is that there exists a better world where, somehow, they won’t be a problem.

That human beings should seek to further each others’ happiness, promote each others’ vital interests, where possible goes without saying. But what responsibilities do we hold towards the other living creatures with whom we share this planet, even if it is we who can be considered as standing at the apex of God’s creation? Do animals (using the term to mean living organisms other than humans and plants, though biologically Man counts as an animal) have “rights” (i.e. to life, health, liberty and happiness - not, presumably, to such things as freedom of speech, worship or association because animals do not talk as we understand talk or engage in religious or political activities) which our treatment of them may infringe, and is according them those rights necessary to give them adequate protection?
The concept of “rights” tends to be associated with beings who are capable of experiencing conscious sensations – are sentient – but can also reason and have mental concepts of things; i.e., ourselves. But though animals don’t have reason the way we do, so far as we can tell, they do seem to feel pain, and pain is surely an undesirable thing that ought to be avoided. C S Lewis argues that while indeed undesirable animal pain may not be such a serious thing, at least in the same way that human pain is a serious thing:

“Now it is almost certain that the nervous system of one of the higher animals presents it with successive sensations. It does not follow that it has any “soul”, anything which recognizes itself as having had A, and now having B, and now marking how B glides away to make room for C. If it had no such “soul”, what we call the experience ABC would never occur. There would, in philosophic language, be “a succession of perceptions”; that is, the sensations would, in fact, occur in that order, and God would know that they were so occurring, but the animal would not know. There would not be “a perception of succession”. This would mean that if you give such a creature two blows from a whip, there are, indeed, two pains: but there is no co-ordinating self which can recognise that “I have had two pains.” Even in the single pain, there is no self to say “I am in pain” – for if it could distinguish itself from the sensation…sufficiently to say “I am in pain” it would also be able to connect the two sensations as its experience. The correct description would be “Pain is taking place in this animal”; not, as we commonly say, “This animal feels pain”, for the words “this” and “feels” really smuggle in the assumption that it is a “self” or “soul” or “consciousness” standing above the sensations and organising them into an “experience” as we do. Such sentience without consciousness, I admit, we cannot imagine: not because it never occurs in us, but because, when it does, we describe ourselves as being “unconscious”. And rightly. The fact that animals react to pain much as we do is, of course, no proof that they are conscious; for we may also so react under chloroform, and even answer questions while asleep.”
(The Problem of Pain, p105-6 (Harper Collins 1991 edition)

The last point is a particularly important one.
Granted, we can’t be absolutely sure Lewis is right in maintaining that animals don’t have conscious sensations, including pain. But the point is that “animal rights” is an unworkable concept in practice, anyway. We’re not equipped psychologically or administratively to care about animals in the same way that we should ourselves. So much trouble is caused by the difficulties which we encounter in promoting human rights, and human welfare, throughout the world, that if we had to worry about animals in the same fashion the problem would become unbearable. Not least of the practical difficulties it would cause would be the stress that those who "care" for a sick relative, say, or any other human being who is suffering or in danger of suffering, and whether they are acting in the capacity of members of the public or of the medical profession, tend to undergo; this stress would increase considerably because of the additional workload they would have to suffer. Imagine the expense, as well as the demands on time and resources and paperwork, involved in drafting and implementing an Animal Rights Act and processing all the legal cases which might be tried under it, on top of all the other responsibilities the government, police and judiciary have to discharge. Altogether we would be physically and mentally unable cope. Therefore, since generally no-one would harm, or ought to harm, an animal without good reason anyway (some would, but then the same type of person might well also harm humans), and laws already exist against such cruelty there is no justification for according animals the same kind of rights as people. The fact that we don’t may be a sensible safety mechanism built in by nature to prevent life getting too difficult.
The welfare of animals is undoubtedly a worthwhile cause; it is distressing when they suffer pain or are unnecesarily killed, besides which the way we sometimes treat them reflects very badly on us. It could still be wrong to kill or otherwise harm them without good cause. We should protect animals from cruelty and neglect not because they have "rights" but because our own moral wellbeing and self-respect demand it. As long as we are steadfast in that purpose, we have as much chance of achieving it as we would anything else.
If we are nevertheless agreed that animal welfare is a just cause, so what can we do to promote it? Cruelty to animals takes many forms, too many to deal with here, but there are four principal areas of controversy.

(1) Animal husbandry
"Animal rights" campaigners claim it is wrong to husband cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry etc for their meat. Some of them refer to it as "murder", thereby placing animals on the same level as human beings. They want society to abandon the practice and switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. There are several reasons why this position is logically untenable.
The first objection concerns human needs and wants. By banning animal husbandry we would not only be destroying the livelihood of farmers, butchers and those involved in the meat export business, but curtailing the liberties of millions of consumers. Nor is it only that people want to eat meat; that desire may at the same time be a need (as is craving water when you are dying of thirst). It is correct to say that Man is neither a carnivore or a herbivore but an omnivore. This means that some individuals live wholly or principally on a diet of vegetables and others do not, though it is also true in the sense that most of us eat a certain amount of meat and a certain amount of vegetables.
Meat is not murder but rather, for most people at any rate, a necessity; they wouldn’t be happy without it. Far from instilling feelings of aggression in people, as some vegetarians have argued, meat if it is what you desire and that desire is satisfied leads to a feeling of contentment which means you are surely less likely to be aggressive. Not least because everyone’s metabolism is different, it isn’t the case that if you adopt vegetarianism you will necessary be physically healthy. I understand there are some vegetarians who are anything but. And, probably because of the lack of contentment, they often have mental health problems (one of them has admitted as much to me), which are every bit as important as physical ones in reducing the quality of life.
Maybe it would be quite possible, though initially difficult, for some individuals to change to a largely vegetarian diet without suffering any ill-effects, but whether they should be made to against their will is another matter. Not only is to prevent people from eating what they like (by banning the killing of animals in order to provide it) a major infringement of liberty, it also damages their quality of life (something of which the pleasure of eating one's favourite food is an important part). "Liberty" and "quality of life" are not things of which animals have any conception, and which therefore mean nothing to them. We cannot, I admit, be quite sure of that, but to think of them as understanding what such concepts mean would be an essential corollary of according them rights, which as I have argued above and will argue below we cannot and should not try to do.
Secondly, what would happen to millions of animals if they were no longer farmed for their meat? Since most people do not keep sheep etc as pets, and cannot be forced to, they would then have to be killed; the animal rights lobby would thus have achieved exactly the opposite of what it sets out to do. The only alternative would be to let them roam freely about the countryside, with great inconvenience to human society; anyone attempting to prevent them from damaging his property or causing any other kind of nuisance would presumably be infringing their rights, and if this involved having to kill them would be committing murder. In other words, rather than putting animal "rights" on an equal level with those of humans the animal would in fact be in a position of advantage. If we accept that rights can only be upheld where they do not conflict inexorably with other rights, then "rights" for sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry would amount to very little; except as creatures confined to a relatively restrictive environment, and killed after a certain time, they would inevitably make normal life for humans almost impossible. The only way they can fit into the ecosystem dominated by Man is as farm animals.
It’s also worth considering that we may be being somewhat arbitrary in deciding that it’s OK to kill, so that you can eat, plants and not animals. Firstly, the assumption is being made that for a plant to be uprooted and eaten causes it no suffering, and involves no violation of any right, being therefore acceptable, whereas killing animals for food does cause suffering, is a violation of the organism's rights, and is consequently wrong. To draw this kind of distinction between animals and plants seems to me dubious. We cannot be sure plants do not feel pain - indeed, they have been shown to react to certain stimuli in a way which suggests they can experience something akin to it - and if they do, what grounds are there for believing that pain to be of a different kind from, and less acute than, animal pain? By much the same token, if one conceives of animals as having rights the same status should be accorded to plants, since we have no reason to suppose they possess a lesser degree of sentience. Accepting that no non-human species can be regarded as deserving rights - as we must, since otherwise we would be causing intolerable problems - means we can avoid having to make such invidious comparisons.
(2) Animal Experimentation
Perhaps the most emotive "animal rights" issue is the use of animals for scientific experiments. Whether this is immoral or not depends principally on the object of the research. If it is something which benefits human beings, or other animals, then to my mind it is justified. It could hardly be more moral to experiment on humans especially when the evidence appears to indicate animals are not sentient (no animal has ever written a paper on the subject or appeared on a TV current affairs programme to discuss it). We would then be permitting, or at least risking, human suffering in preference to that of animals. It is often argued that if humans are to be the beneficiaries of scientific/medical research then it makes sense to experiment on them and not animals. The answer is that there is always the risk of the subject dying, and although human pain and animal pain are both abhorrent, death as opposed to suffering means something more to a human than it does to an animal. Though some animals can tell when they are going to die, the knowledge does not cause the fear and grief it frequently creates in people. There needs to be, and I understand already is, a code of conduct, enshrined in law, regulating the use of animals in scientific and medical experiments. It should be permissible provided:
(a) The object of the research is justified. This may often be a matter of opinion. In my view, although it may seem highly controversial to say this, the production of cosmetics as well as those things clearly of practical benefit to us should, on grounds of liberty and freedom of choice, be counted among the acceptable reasons for experimenting upon animals. We should all have the right to look the way we want, and to improve our appearance if we wish; it is surely a fundamental human liberty. Therefore, just as it is for the conscience of those involved in fox-hunting to decide whether the pleasure they get from indulging in such time-honoured pursuits excuses the suffering inflicted on the fox, so it is for that of the person who uses cosmetics to beautify themselves to judge whether it is a good enough reason to submit the animals on whom they are tested to pain, discomfort or death.
(b) Use of animals is the only way to achieve the desired result. (c) No unnecessary suffering is caused to the animal.
Animal welfare groups are sometimes reluctant to have any part in implementing or monitoring the legislation since for them it implies acceptance of animal experimentation in principle. Let the process go ahead without them if necessary; it is the only way, without putting the needs of animals before those of humans, which would be both immoral and ridiculous, of giving the former the maximum degree of protection.
(3) Blood sports
These activities are generally seen as barbaric. It is sometimes sought to justify them by claiming they are an essential part of the way of life of a particular culture or region. Certainly, there would be no other reason for permitting them. (I don’t have the necessary knowledge to decide whether they are a better way of culling foxes, which are predators of farm animals and may therefore need to be culled, than more scientific methods).
The insistence that blood sports are necessary for an area's survival may be an attempt to rationalise what is really indefen-sible, though fox hunting is undoubtedly seen by some people at least as acceptable in a way badger-baiting is not. It is possible that there are other ways for the locality to survive economically and culturally, if only people choose to explore them. Nevertheless, if the locals have chosen to make it an important feature of their lives, then banning it could be called a major interference with their liberty. That is why it should be left to the conscience of individuals to decide whether the desirability of upholding traditional customs and activities excuses the suffering, if we can call it that, undoubtedly inflicted on the animal.
(4) Zoos
The principle of zoos has come in for much criticism of late, since the restrictions on the animals' liberty are thought to be psychologically damaging to them. Even if this is so, there are still important reasons why they should not be banned. Arguably they benefit animals in general more than harm them, being the principal means by which people can learn to appreciate them, and thus play a bigger role in their protection. Some sense that public attitudes to zoos are changing; people may be coming to feel that their educational purpose does not justify the loss of freedom for the animals, in which case we should spare the latter any suffering which being in captivity brings them. The ideal response to this trend would be for the character of zoos to change so that they become principally conservation centres, a role they already do perform to some extent and which is of course entirely acceptable.

Where animals are made to perform at circuses and the like, they are not doing what they would naturally so maybe it can be considered cruel. But as with cosmetics and blood sports we cannot force people not to watch it if they want to. We have to first popularise the idea that it is wrong, and get that idea accepted by the majority, before we ban it.
One final point. Whether or not animals do have “souls”, perhaps of a different order to a human one, I don’t know. What does seem to be the case is that they have no concept of right and wrong. Therefore, although their behaviour may be embarrassing, inconvenient and even dangerous to humans they cannot be said to be guilty of immoral conduct – in religious terms, to sin. They act from instinct rather from conscious choice. There is therefore no reason why they should not deserve entry to some paradisal afterlife, some Heaven, where they will not suffer pain and mistreatment of the sort which ought to distress us regardless of religion. If Heaven is meant to be the embodiment of all that gives pleasure, and animals can give pleasure by their beauty, the companionship they can give and their scientific interest, they will be found there. People, who can do wrong, may lose their place in the afterlife if they do. If I may put my Christian hat on for a moment it demonstrates that a human, if they defy God’s will, may end up less fortunate than an animal even though ranking above them in the hierarchy of Creation.

The intense, and in the right circumstances quite legitimate, pleasure sex can give means it must be considered a vital part of the human condition; and the study of people’s sexual behaviour is fascinating, part of what makes human beings what they are. Our obsession with sex in recent years is maybe because it is an organic, natural activity and therefore a way of rebelling against the dehumanisation caused by technological society, so perhaps we can be forgiven it.
Quite obviously there are laws which should govern sexual behaviour. The first and most important is that sex must be consensual; if your own body is not free, what is? You obviously should not attempt to have intercourse with someone, regardless of their wishes in the matter, the moment you decide you like the idea, and fortunately most people would agree such inhibitions are sensible and necessary. The real issue is what kinds of sex are wrong in themselves, or in certain circumstances, even when voluntary. The scope for debate is considerable. Often, questions of sexual morality are not as clear-cut as they may seem. From a Christian point of view the fact that the Bible, while frequently condemning “fornication”, doesn’t say an awful lot, in the end, about sex may mean that the rightness or wrongness of a particular form of sexual behaviour is to some extent down to the conscience of individuals.
Our differing sexual preferences show our diversity as human beings. But is there anything actually wrong about such activities as fellatio, bondage or cunnilingus? I would suggest not. It is a matter of personal taste and choice, of course, but if sex is a pleasurable, and for those who study it academically interesting, form of human activity then it needs to have variety. As little more than the missionary position it does seem rather dull. You can’t force someone to do what they don’t want to, nor should you try, but oral sex, for example can be an expression of love, a celebration of the sheer joy of physicality. One vicar, in the section on sexual matters in his book on the New Age, lamented the fact that Christians found it so hard to produce a book on the lines of the Kama Sutra. For there is no reason in the end to think that variety in sex is necessarily wrong from a proper Christian perspective. Fellatio etcetera are not condemned in the Bible, which means we are free to practise them if we wish (no, I don’t know if people do that sort of thing in Heaven). They may also, precisely because they seem bizarre and even dubious while nonetheless, ultimately, quite permissible in themselves be the occasion of quite legitimate humour. Some years ago my local paper reported how a woman had to be taken to hospital so that she could be got out of a pair of handcuffs. She was described as “red-faced” regarding the matter. Such incidents are funny, not deplorable. It needs to be said here that if we can joke about sex then as with other things it means we are not frightened of it, which is unhealthy. (The point that bawdy humour is not necessarily sinful and can serve a benign purpose is made by the monk William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose; although the novel was concerned to attack the teaching of religious doctrine in too narrow-minded and insensitive a fashion, there is no doubt the character is a true Christian).
If not wrong in themselves, then the activities of which we have been speaking cannot be more wrong if the relationship is casual than “straight” sex would be in those circumstances. But one would hope that the people doing them are at least in a stable relationship, in which case it is between the two individuals involved and cannot be censured by the rest of society.
People differ not just in what kind of sex they like but in how often they have sex. Promiscuity, if that is what being highly-sexed means, is frowned upon, even today, in religious circles and among some secular people. It is seen as degrading and therefore wrong. Certainly, it is not ideally how we are supposed to behave, which is why the Bible so often condemns fornication (its doing so as if there are never any extenuating circumstances may be seen like other things it says as a form of overkill, of exaggeration, which is often the best way to ram a point home and get people to think about their behaviour). The indulgence without restraint (other than the sexual partner needing to consent to the act) of a basically animal instinct debases the human condition, since we are meant to rise above that level. After a while it becomes wearing (though marriages can go stale too, and therefore have to be nurtured), performed in a soulless mechanical fashion which does not really give satisfaction. There is, after all, no real love involved in a casual fling, one reason why the ultimate aim in matters of sex should be marriage. It is even thought to be damaging to health; the head of a major aviation company, wishing his pilots to be in first-rate physical condition, allegedly told them ”gentlemen, you cannot both fuck and fly.” Man is not really biologically designed for it (although probably most people, although not virgins, aren’t particularly promiscuous either, which mitigates the harmful effects to some extent).
But is promiscuity, while undesirable, also inevitable? The urge to have sex is very basic and very natural and cannot, unfortunately, always be satisfied in the way most appropriate. In the interests of making the right choice of partner, so that the marriage is more likely to last, it is a good idea to delay getting married until one is older and wiser, more mature in judgement and experienced in the matter of relationships. During that time the basic urge will need satisfying. It is perhaps in the end more dangerous NOT to let young people sleep around. Allowing them to do so is the only way for them to find out how ultimately unsatisfying it is. Otherwise, it will always be something that is tantalisingly out of their reach, that they forever want to sample but are frustrated in doing so by moral or religious strictures (applied in my view too rigorously), until they can’t stand the temptation any longer. Better they get it out of their system at a relatively early stage in their lives than later on when they may be married, or in important positions in the church or politics, when it can have messy consequences from which further guilt and stress result. It’s much kinder to let the fire burn itself out. It occurs to me that endless anguish and doubt, endless psychological conflict, over whether one should relieve sexual tensions without waiting until one has found a wife/husband first, which merely screws you up is no service to either God or Man. No doubt the former isn’t particularly happy about casual sex; rather he acknowledges it may be a necessary evil, instead of positively celebrating it. You don’t celebrate what is simply a (sometimes distasteful) necessity, and in this case is to fulfilling marital sex as having a drink of water because you’re desperately thirsty to enjoying a bottle of fine wine in a high-class restaurant.
One reason why contraception is disliked by some is that it is thought to encourage promiscuity. There is no doubt that it does, but if you need to get that promiscuity out of your system in any case then it is not thereby harmful, and it is surely no bad thing if you are prevented from catching unpleasant and/or dangerous diseases while doing so (or adding to overpopulation by producing yet another mouth to feed, even though we would still value the child once it had come into the world, and regardless of the relationship between its parents. Contraception, it should be pointed out, also enables a couple who are married or in a stable relationship to enjoy the act of love without risking (except in so far as no method of contraception, like no method of anything else, is flawless) unwanted pregnancies. The Catholic Church believes it is wrong in any eventuality, seeing it as an interference in the due course of nature. I fail to see the logic in this. Apart from the fact that population growth, within a single family or the world at large, creates social and economic issues for Man which it doesn’t do for other animals, because of the nature of human society and psychology, the imperfect nature of the world means in any case that we cannot do what we like or need to without a certain amount of risk. In some ways the problem stems from the stable, ordered aspect of things, the fact that they have a constant form and nature which allows a coherent world, capable of supporting life and with at least the possibility of happiness, to exist. The nature of a fire is such that I need to keep my distance from it, and sometimes wear protective clothing in its vicinity, because although it may keep me warm or be used to manufacture tools for vital tasks in industry, agriculture and the home it will also harm me if I get too close or fall into it. Similarly, the nature of the human body, in normal healthy adults, is that regular heterosexual intercourse between the same two people results sooner or later in the female becoming pregnant. A God who values free will cannot be constantly intervening in things and must let them take their course, which means obeying their own fundamental nature. Hence, it is for us to find our own way round potential hazards, whether particular or universal. There is no reason whatever why we should not seek to make the earthly world a better place where we can, by increasing the opportunities for comfort, safety, pleasure or efficiency, and a condom or contraceptive pill is no more immoral in principle than a motor car, washing machine or fireguard.
In the last resort, casual sex is not something we should do just because we can. Each individual needs to decide whether it is something they can avoid (so much the better if that is the case) or need to work off. It may be a means to an end in that it exhausts promiscuous tendencies and so makes it easier to be faithful in marriage (though physical infidelity in itself is not the worst damage that can be inflicted on a relationship), but it is not an end in itself. Unless a person has a genetic predisposition towards it which cannot be cured by therapy – their conscience will tell them whether it is that or not – or have been unduly repressed there is less excuse for it at a later stage in their life as there is in their youth. As in so many matters, much depends on the reasons why one does things and the circumstances in which they take place.

Pre-marital sex is another feature of modern social mores much regretted by traditionalists. However, if a couple remain faithful to one another in the long run I cannot see that they have done anything wrong by having had sex before their marriage. It may even be a good idea; for the marriage to be a success the couple must satisfy themselves before entering into it that they are compatible in all respects, including sex, although if one partner objects to it there is nothing the other can do to make them comply with their wishes. Waiting until the wedding night to satisfy one's desires ought not normally to be a problem.
However, the practice of postponing sex until a couple are legally married is now almost non-existent, and I suspect this is not because of a decline in moral values (although such has undoubtedly occurred) but rather the standard's being humanly impossible to maintain, once artificial constraints are removed.

The institution of marriage is undoubtedly being eroded; on one side by divorce, on the other by the increasing tendency of couples simply to live together rather than be legally married. Traditionalists, and in particular fundamentalist Christians, bemoan this. In the case of cohabitation, though, is it really such a terrible thing? Marriage should be a spiritual affair, which does not require laws to make it work. What matters is fidelity: that the couple do their best to stay together until death separates them, even if their relationship does not have a legal sanction. It is true that unmarried relationships do break down, but so do conventional marriages. Nor can it be said that children born out of "wedlock" are disadvantaged, since illegitimacy no longer carries the stigma it did in the past, and one-parent families, which can undoubtedly contribute to child delinquency, are the result of a general malaise affecting married as well as unmarried couples.

While cohabitation and pre-marital sex may arguably be harmless, there is no doubt that divorce is regrettable. We cannot, of course, force couples to stay together in the long run. What we can do, through moral and social education, is to make young people aware of the responsibilities marriage entails, and the need to choose a really suitable partner, but we have no guarantee they will take our advice.
Someone who has chosen the wrong partner ought not to be trapped by this decision for the rest of their lives. To prevent them from divorcing would be to perpetuate a relationship in which true love - the essential basis of any relationship - did not exist. This would be both irrational and unfair. It is true that the rate at which divorces are allowed to proceed needs to be slowed down, but the object of this should be to benefit any children who may have resulted from the marriage, an aim one can only regard as laudable and just, rather than to force a particular set of standards on them. We cannot make people live the way we would like them to, even if it is clearly desirable that they should. If delaying the divorce creates a "cooling-off" period during which the husband and wife reconsider their decision and decide to get back together, then that is obviously a good thing, but such should not be its main objective.
It has been said we should not prevent people from getting divorced, but should make it more difficult for them to do so. This seems to me to make little sense. Making it difficult for someone to do something is just as much an interference with liberty (if it is on grounds of liberty that we are refusing to outlaw divorce altogether) as preventing them outright from doing it.

We should not despise those who have not been born into the world with beautiful bodies/faces, for sexual attraction isn’t everything, and a person is more than just their physical appearance. But where the human form divine is sublime, why shouldn’t it be seen, in the same way that one would not prevent people seeing other things that were beautiful about the world such as natural environments, animal and plant life, impressively designed buildings and machinery? Even from a Christian position, one can defend such a view. Man is meant to stand at the apex of God's creation, second only to Himself in magnificence. It would be surprising, therefore, since physical beauty although not superior to spiritual beauty is clearly important to God and a common feature of his handiwork, judging from the natural world, if some people at least were not aesthetically pleasing in other respects than just their faces, hair and complexion (which we are allowed to admire without there being any question of immorality). It could be argued that if someone has an attractive physiognomy, and is happy to let others see it, it is absurd to insist that it be covered up, for it is a mark of the wonder of God and his skill as an artist and can consequently be admired without any wrong being committed.
Indeed, it is sometimes asked whether there is any fundamental difference between pornography and art. The difference, of course, is that pornography, though it may be art to its reader, is to those involved in its manufacture or sale additionally or primarily a source of profit, and this is one important reson why its opponents see it as degrading. However, the argument must be on the issue of whether pornography is in itself acceptable, for if it is then it is no more debased by being a means of commercial gain than anything else one has to buy to obtain. We live in what is a basically capitalist society, in which nothing we want or need is for free.
Otherwise, the dividing line between art and porn is a blurred one and has been for a long time. If pornography involves the display of the naked human form then art, which does the same in the form of paintings and sculptures, is pornography; it surely makes no difference if the medium used is a photograph. And if the intention of art is to show what in one way or another is aesthetically pleasing then pornography, if it has that effect, can be considered art, whatever the intentions of the people behind it. This is especially so if a woman posing nude for Penthouse or Playboy enjoys what she is doing, because then it is all the more a celebration, shared or unshared, of the delights of the (God-given) gift of sexuality. Judging from their expressions, some of the models do and others don’t. The eyes of some are hard and cold while others’ seem to have a definite twinkle in them (if you’re wondering how I know this, well I’d be lying if I said I’d never, like most red-blooded and basically heterosexual men, read a pornographic magazine in my life, besides which it’s the kind of thing which, even if ultimately sinful, you need to have some sort of exposure to in order to comment on it usefully). A model may see it as an expression and a reveling in of her sexuality, a form of self-assertion, which justifies what she is doing even if, at the same time, it is an also an exploitation of her body by others for money. There is, then, no necessary distinction between what is “pornography” and what is genuinely erotic.
None of the above means, of course, that an interest in pornography is obligatory and a man not a man if he doesn’t have any, although most men probably will at least in young adulthood, or that a woman should be criticised for refusing to pose for nude pictures. It must be a matter of personal choice; no-one should be exposed to it if they don’t want to be. The latter has happened in the past and is morally completely wrong. But is pornography really such an evil thing, per se, as its detractors claim? It may have done much harm but it has also done a great deal of good, breaking down unnecessary inhibitions which may be psychologically harmful. It enables us to visualise sexual acts and thus renders them easier to perform. Far from necessarily leading to promiscuity it can actually strengthen a monogamous relationship, by making its sexual aspect easier to handle and thus more rewarding. It is true that pornography can lead to unrealistic expectations - no sensible person believes the characters in a Harold Robbins novel to be true to life - and lead to feelings of inadequacy in those not well-endowed, but sexual repression and ignorance can do just as much harm. The late Mrs Mary Whitehouse, who was been much maligned as a narrow-minded prude, opposed pornography because she genuinely believes it to be a debasement of sex; what she perhaps failed to realise is that without pornography people might not be able to appreciate its delights quite so much. Naked stone sculptures in museums and art galleries are not enough to serve this purpose, for by the very fact that they are stone and not flesh they can only be an idealised rather than realistic representation of the human form, and you may have to go to the art gallery to see them whereas a pornographic magazine can be present in your home for as long as you want it to be. The complete abolition of pornography - along with that of strip clubs, which have the actual advantage of presenting you with the product in the flesh (as it were), with a real live person rather than an image in a magazine – would result in the kind of repressed society which wasn’t entirely healthy and if anything explains the relative depravity of the modern age by its repressing natural desires in such a way as to make it inevitable that when things changed they would go to the other end of the scale. And if pornography is providing a vital service, then having to pay for it is no different from having to pay for the food one eats. (With the strip clubs it is the same. They are possibly degrading to the performer in a way the porn is not, because whereas a photo-shoot may last for a relatively short time and not happen every day, for strippers expected to perform regularly the continuous bump and grind, if I may so put it is monotonous, mechanical and dispiriting – and like a prostitute they’re generally in it for the money rather than for love. However, I did once visit a club where one of the girls – in fact a middle-aged woman who may have been as old as sixty, though extremely well-preserved – genuinely did seem to be enjoying herself, even if one may put this down to her obviously being a professional at her trade).
The argument that porn is degrading to women has been answered to some extent by the points made above, but there are some additional comments which can be offered. One wonders whether the feminists would make the complaint quite so often if pictures of nude or semi-nude men were as abundant as those of nude or semi-nude women. That they aren't may be explained by aspects of Western society, and of sexual psychology, which although they might seem irrational are nevertheless too deep-rooted to be erased from them. It is socially acceptable in the West for a woman to reveal the upper parts of her breasts, but not for a man to half-expose his genitals. We have a different attitude towards the male sexual organs from that we display towards the naked female body. It is perhaps also true that the male sexual drive is different in nature from the female, being more likely to require visual representations of the opposite sex as nature made them. Relatively speaking, women don’t need it as much as men and it may be this which has given rise to the belief that they detest it, a belief not universally true since some women although they may not read or view it are tolerant towards it. I therefore believe, if a little uncomfortably, that pornography is not wrong in principle. Even if it were, to prevent all adults from reading it would constitute a major curtailing of personal liberty, an attempt to dictate the moral standards of individuals. Whether or not to read it should be a matter of personal choice. If it gives us a complex about our bodies, because they are not so attractive as those featured in Penthouse or Playboy, and we cannot find a way to enjoy it without having this problem, then we should stop buying it; if we don't, and continue to suffer from feelings of physical inadequacy, it is entirely our fault. To suggest that it is impossible for us to be so strong-willed, and that we should therefore be protected from the consequences of our own weakness, is patronising and an insult to our dignity, even though some of us undoubtedly are weak and make little or no attempt to break our addiction.
There are undoubtedly some situations where pornography would be tasteless, offensive and even dangerous. The real problems are its effect upon (a) children, who most agree should be prevented from seeing it, and (b) certain adults, sexually frustrated and perhaps also mentally unstable, who might be incited by it to commit rape. We cannot always be successful in stopping it from falling into the hands of children, and because its supply to adults is not illegal it is even more difficult to prevent it reaching potential rapists. However, the fact that a few children may be exposed to it cannot justify restricting the freedom of the majority, especially when pornography may actually have a beneficial side and to ban it would be a return to the kind of society which, by being too repressed, created the problems we have today in the first place. Since not all who read pornography are incited by it to commit rape, there must be another factor, as important as the pornography, contributing to the rapists' actions. If one can identify what this is and deal with it, one does not need to ban pornography in order to tackle the problem effectively. (It should be borne in mind that if being mentally unstable makes one dangerous with regard to sexual matters, it is just as likely to make them dangerous in any other respect).

On all sexual matters, things need to be allowed to find their mean. We can’t of course force people to be strippers, or prostitutes for that matter, just because it helps people break down their sexual inhibitions. But women are less likely to embrace these professions if they don’t find it hard financially to make ends meet, so governments need to address the problem of poverty. Maybe if the product was not available people wouldn’t desire it and would be led to find some alternative way of getting their kicks, if that is how the psychology of the matter operates (there should be freedom to sample it if it is available, since otherwise we are exercising a degree of control over people’s lives which is wrong in principle, whatever its motive, and could in some areas prove highly dangerous). Much depends on what time of life one is at. Curiosity about sex may well lead a young man to buy a pornographic magazine or visit a lap-dancing establishment but it is less acceptable for, say, a married family man in middle age. Christians who are liberal in their attitudes to sex should be aware that other Christians, not necessarily prudes or bigots, may not approve of that permissiveness. Ultimately one is judged on one’s conscience, on whether what one does was excusable in the particular circumstances in which it happened or was done from honest motives, sincerely held beliefs. There is a narrow and often difficult path to tread between what is excusable and what isn’t; they may differ in their opinions but Christians perhaps find that path easier to negotiate, on the whole, than others.

Although pornography is arguably harmless, in some respects, there is no doubt among most people that prostitution is undesirable. Whatever the reasons for it, it would obviously be better if it never happened. The human body is made into a purchaseable (or at any rate hireable) commodity, a financial transaction, which is especially repugnant when intimate activities are involved. There is no doubt that it degrades both the supplier and the purchaser, even if one is correct in seeing it as sometimes a necessary evil.
Why do some women offer their bodies in return for money, and some men take up the offer? Some prostitutes have a misogynistic desire to assist men in degrading themselves, out of revenge for having been abused as children, such abuse making it additionally likely they will make prostitution their career choice by taking away their self-respect (though it oughtn’t to of course, since the abuse was not their fault). This motive cannot be acceptable since to deliberately inflict spiritual, emotional and moral harm on someone – which is what it amounts to – is clearly wicked, whatever the reasons for it. A prostitute who sells her body with this aim in mind cannot be excused their behaviour, whatever the influence of deep-rooted social problems and personal trauma and the onus on society to deal with them.
Other prostitutes are forced into their "profession" by poverty. Certainly most women would not enter such a trade unless they felt compelled to by sheer necessity. Prostitutes may be perfectly nice people, because if it is a case of “needs must” then they are not acting from the unsavoury motives which would be incompatible with a pleasant character. Probably some have genuinely friendly relationships with their clients, rather than despise them. That does not mean they do what they do from love. They are not in business from an altruistic desire to console those who find difficulty in forming lasting relationships with the opposite sex – or, often by the same token, simply sowing one’s “wild oats” - however much they may genuinely feel sorry for such people. Were they not prostitutes, and didn’t have a financial interest in encouraging men to engage their services, their advice would be to find a steady girlfriend, seek counselling etc. Where the problem is poverty, the government has a responsibility to deal with that problem so that women are not forced into prostitution in order not to suffer from it.
So is prostitution ever acceptable? Here the question arises of whether, if being a prostitute means one has enough money to keep body and soul together and provide for dependants, it is therefore justified. There arises a kind of symbiosis; the prostitute needs money to avoid sinking into poverty, while her client needs her services because his sexual urges cannot otherwise be satisfied. Nonetheless, some would still argue that although the prostitute's motives for being one may be acceptable (in the circumstances), that of her clients in "hiring" her arguably is not. To condone it because it had beneficial consequences for someone not basically immoral themselves might lead to the approval of all kinds of dubious activity. If we regard morality seriously, which to me means treating it as of equal importance to life itself, for otherwise life would be so debased as to have no value, we must uphold it even if the consequences were to let the prostitute suffer and perhaps die. The spiritual harmfulness of encouraging immoral conduct in others is more serious than the material suffering of the prostitute (which may encourage her to seek a spiritual solution). There is no way of saying this which doesn’t come across as ruthless, if we believe – correctly as I see it – spiritual matters to be ultimately more important than practical ones, however crucial the latter might be. It is my conviction that many "moral" people would see their principles in this light, even though they would obviously not want anyone to have to die for their beliefs to be upheld. The question arises as to whether the clients’ motives are excusable. It’s quite likely there are indeed people who, while having normal sexual urges, aren’t very good at satisfying them through a permanent relationship, which ought to be the socially most acceptable way of doing it. And some married men have a predilection for practices such as fellatio which is not shared by their wives, who may refuse to perform it; and if that was not a problem, if all they wanted was “straight” sex, they wouldn’t, to be fair to them, contemplate visiting a prostitute at all. It could be argued, however, that men should seek some other means of solving their problem – counselling from secular and spiritual advisers, therapy if necessary – rather than commit acts which are undeniably degrading regardless of the factors which lead to them. At one end of the scale, an even more important issue is that some claim prostitution makes rapes less likely to happen by satisfying the needs of people who would otherwise, not being good at relationships, end up violating women in search of relief. Rapes are of course the ultimate sexual crime for by definition they are non-consensual, which prostitution in one sense is not, except where “white” slavery by criminal gangs is involved. I don’t know how important prostitution is in preventing rape. I expect it does have that effect; though most rapes are committed so that the perpetrator may enjoy the feeling of power he has over his victim rather than simply to gain sexual satisfaction, that may well be because he can pay for the latter if he has to. But we can’t allow that the rape angle to be the deciding factor because if prostitutes didn’t have the excuse of poverty or hadn’t been sexually abused in their childhood, they wouldn’t still be in business out of an altruistic desire to prevent rapes. They would see the avoidance of degradingly selling their bodies, which they would regard, if decent, as repellent in general terms and not just on their own account, as the more important reason, and one cannot object to that.
What we have to do is let things find their mean. Women facing poverty or the possibility of it should explore other options, especially where their motives have nothing to do with financial necessity. Men should at least consider seeking counselling and be less afraid to discuss intimate matters with sex therapists, doctors etc. Governments should address themselves to the problem of poverty and the gap between rich and poor; as long as they do not so, it is to some exent hypocritical for them to complain about the vice and crime the poverty leads to. In the end, as in so many other things, people will be judged according to the reasons for what they did or didn’t do.
Meanwhile, I do not believe prostitution should be legalised. There may be benefits in such a measure, in terms of cutting out the pimps or preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. It would probably have the latter effect; I’m not sure about the former, not having made a special study of this issue. But one thing is apparent. It may be forgiveable, by God and Man equally, in some situations for someone to be either a prostitute or their client. That does not mean it is desirable, and we inflict spiritual harm upon society by allowing it to think otherwise. An impressionable young person – or any person, perhaps – will take the view that if something was harmful in any way, it would not be permitted. They will think, “if it’s legal there can’t be anything bad about it. If there was they wouldn’t let anyone do it.” In fact, the authorities are either ignoring the moral dimension or, more acceptably, have decided that the overall balance of the argument, when both ethics and practicalities are considered, is in favour of legalisation, that the matter should be one of individual choice, without necessarily claiming that the
activities being legalised are right. In either case, their decision is not necessarily the correct one. Unfortunately, the only option is to stay with the current (in Britain anyway) arrangement, in many ways unsatisfactory, whereby prostitution is neither legal nor, in itself, illegal. Under it, as with any law which specifically permits prostitution, it is a matter of individual choice and conscience whether or not one pays for sex. As it should be, because in matters of personal conduct it is only by avoiding temptation, or at least doing a bad thing for a forgiveable (perhaps) reason, that we prove our moral and spiritual worth, whatever the consequences for ourselves, and sometimes for others (like the wife infected because of a burst condom), should we fail the test.

This is perhaps the most difficult and controversial of all sexual topics. In today’s PC world people may feel that there is no argument anyway, it’s quite acceptable and you’re a bigot if you don’t think so. However, not only is it not necessarily the case that anyone who isn’t comfortable with homosexuality is bigoted but to regard the matter as closed prevents intelligent and enlightening discussion of it. Such discussion might be helpful to those on either side of the fence where the issue is concerned.
Unfortunately for those who dislike homosexuality, it is not easy to say just why it is wrong. After all, provided gays and lesbians do not attempt to impose their lifestyle on others (those who do are in a fairly small minority, and in any case heterosexuals too can commit rape) there seems to be no rational reason for objecting to their proclivities. They may in general be moral and law-abiding. There are nasty homosexuals, of course, but there are nasty heterosexuals as well. There are gay paedophiles, but there are heterosexual paedophiles as well (in fact most paedophiles are heterosexual). And provided they have been responsible enough to take precautions against AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, homosexuals can be as normal and healthy physically as the rest of us. If faithful to each other, a homosexual couple can enjoy a perfectly happy and satisfying relationship, with the consequence that one of them feels genuine grief and pain, and can thus be legitimately an object of compassion, when the other dies. That they could not in the normal way produce children is not, in itself, an argument against the right to be gay unless we are also going to condemn those who are celibate, or heterosexuals who for one reason or another decide not to reproduce, and in whose case that right would be accorded quite happily (and should be, since forcing them to have a child they did not want would go against personal freedom in a big way quite apart from any emotional problems it might cause the child. Homosexuals have sometimes been criticised because by not producing offspring they are failing to contribute to the economy. Even if they didn’t do the latter through their jobs (for unless discriminated against in the world of employment because of their sexuality, homosexuals can have jobs the same as anyone else), or to society as a whole by their cultural activities (whether or not in areas where gays have tended to be particularly prominent), to see people’s value primarily in terms of their economic efficiency is dehumanising and a sign of runaway Thatcherism.
In the past some gays have pressurised those they suspect, rightly of wrongly, of being closet homosexuals to “come out”, their motive being anger at the suggestion homosexuality is something undesirable which one has to hide, or the refusal to make a stand against society’s prejudices (as they see it) by openly declaring one’s orientation. In the process they become guilty of harassment, which is particularly disagreeable when some may find coming out traumatic and don’t relish being pushed into it before they’re ready. But this kind of conduct, while wrong and objectionable, still doesn’t mean homosexuality is wrong per se, any more than anything else is discredited because I may use the wrong methods to defend it. Homosexuals may be boon companions and good adoptive parents; they may excel at their jobs, and make excellent contributions to science and the arts. Overall, most people would agree that it is better to be a nice, and a happy, homosexual than a nasty or unhappy heterosexual. If all the world was composed of nice homosexuals, and our homosexuality threatened the human race with extinction, we could argue that if the human race was composed entirely of nasty people (should that be the only alternative) it wouldn't deserve to survive.
It is because of all these things that opposition to homosexuality is viewed in many circles (not necessarily left-wing ones) as mere bigotry, or a sign that the objector is actually a suppressed homosexual themselves. The fact is that there is no objection to homosexuality which can be explained in rational terms, and thus appear to be more than mere prejudice. Nonetheless, there does seem to be on some people’s part a visceral revulsion, not expressible in words, towards it, a heartfelt conviction that it is abhorrent which is not lessened by the recognition that the homosexual may in other ways be morally upright. The view is not necessarily that gays are harming others by what they do, rather that an act can be repugnant in itself regardless of its extended consequences and certainly damages the person who commits it, spiritually at least, which is something we ought to care about even if society at large is not adversely affected.
Homosexuality is a subject of controversy among religious people, and it has certainly caused much trouble in the Church of England of late. Some Christians (and Muslims) see it an unnatural and therefore against the law of God, who essentially ordained that physical love should be expressed through the sexual union of male and female. On this subject, there has been some controversy as to whether homosexuality is specifically condemned in the Bible. The condemnation does not actually need to be specific; it can be deduced, if one interprets the Gospels honestly and does not delude oneself as to what they are telling us, so as to attempt to dodge any challenge it may be delivering to re-examine our ways and question whether what we may have taken for granted is acceptable. It is then not even worth asking, except for academic reasons, why the condemnation is not specific, though the apparent oversight may seem strange. The fact is, however, that homosexuality does appear to be condemned in the Bible. Leviticus 18:22 warns the Jews, "You must not lie with a man as with a woman. That is an abomination." Later, Jesus told those to whom he was preaching that he had come not to change the Mosaic Law (to which presumably the whole of humanity, and not just the Jews, was now subject where commonsense permitted, given that through his disciples his mission was to be a universal one) but to confirm it; this presumably included the passage from Leviticus. Whether the injunction is fair seems questionable given that Leviticus also sets out laws on ritual and diet which in a modern Western context appear strange. Those laws however can be seen as part of God’s stewardship of a particular people, the Jews, at a particular point in history. And there is a clear difference between an injunction which is meant to be culture-conditional and one which is to apply to all people at all times. If God’s concern, in spiritual/ethical as well as material (and the former especially) matters is for everyone and not just the Jews, then it will do; for this is clearly intended to be a matter of ethics. Something which was merely unwise, or a flouting of custom rather than ethics or virtue, would not be described as “abominable”. If it is an “abomination” that implies it is morally repugnant, in other words is absolutely wrong and not just in a particular context.
The Bible seems also to condemn masturbation (“onanism”, after Onan who “spilt his seed upon the ground”), which although not a particularly savoury subject is probably necessary, for single people, to deal with unhealthy tensions which cannot otherwise be relieved, making the condemnation seem unwise and therefore also casting doubt on the commonsense of other things Scripture might say. However it is possible the passage is actually referring to coitus interruptus, which would similarly get in the way of God’s wish that the Israelites go forth and multiply.
The secular mind is always searching for rational solutions to problems. Christianity does not purport to do so; that is why it may throw a whole new light on this matter, as it does on many others. Its terms of reference are completely different. For some Christians at least, the wrongness of homosexuality is no less that for not being obvious in rational terms. One might ask why God allows people to be born with characteristics which eventually cause them to become homosexuals, and then expects them to try to rid themselves of their tendencies, which may prove a difficult and traumatic process; but this is just one aspect of a much broader issue, i.e. that of why pain and suffering exist at all in a God-created Universe.
Since 1967 homosexual acts in private between consenting adults has been legal in Britain; homosexuality in principle has been decriminalised. It is probably true that the Act owed its passage as much to the impracticality of attempting to adequately police the old law (which to be really effective would have required the setting up of video cameras all over places like Hampstead Heath, or in any enclosed space large enough for two or more people to commit homosexual acts in) along with a growing belief that in a free society one should be allowed to choose one's sexual orientation, as to any belief that homosexuality itself was acceptable or desirable. Gays should certainly be protected against verbal or physical intimidation, whatever one's feelings about their lifestyle). I am sure no-one would dispute that if we do hate the sin, supposing it to be that, we should nonetheless love the sinner. Such a statement (made recently by British Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe) is condemned by the gay community as insufficient; they object to it because it appears to sanitise and thus excuse opposition to homosexuality, making it acceptable. But Widdecombe was entitled to her views; and the gays ought to have been grateful, for there are still people around who hate not just the sin but the sinner as well. Undoubtedly there are people who are bigoted over the matter; because homosexuality seems wrong to them they develop a strong distaste for gays and lesbians without ever questioning whether that is right. For all they are to know (disregarding any absolute standard of right and wrong which may in fact exist), were they to re-examine their views they might find themselves abandoning them. But then again, they might not; or, if they admitted they ought not to be narrow-minded or to feel hatred, they could still sincerely believe that homosexuality was nonetheless wrong.
We need to more or less uphold the current situation, with the proviso that those who cannot accept it and for example refuse on grounds of conscience to permit a civil marriage should be allowed to do so without incurring penalties. The Church of England (I don’t know about other churches) should recognise that there are strongly, and sincerely, held views on either side and adopt the same principle that it did with women priests and bishops; those churches that do not wish to be ministered to by a gay member of the clergy can opt out.
But what we are trying to decide is whether homosexuality is morally right or wrong. The crucial question here is whether homosexuals can help what they do; are they impelled to be gay by their genes, entailing that it is pointless, even irrational, to object to their behaviour? The gay community would claim that it can’t help itself in order to legitimise what it is doing. However, I did once read a medical textbook which in discussing on the subject stated, “Treatment is only possible if the homosexual wants to be cured”. This implies the condition can be changed, which means it becomes a moral standard rather than something you can’t do anything about anyway. The question arises of whether it is morally right to be a homosexual. (The textbook was eighteen years old even when I read it in 1993, but although the mere treatment of homosexuality as if it was a medical condition may offend, it is not true to say that it was guilty of reactionary bigotry; it was enlightened enough to view fellatio as only being abnormal if one preferred it to straight sex, and indeed to appreciate that someone could not be forced to change their sexual orientation against their will. The notion they could led to the disgraceful treatment of Alan Turing, the computer scientist who helped crack the Engima code during World War Two, which involved forcing him to undergo aversion therapy against his will (he eventually decided to accept chemical castration).
So is it wrong? It is surely true that to have freedom and/or the legal right to do something does not automatically mean it is morally correct. Even valid is the belief that it is justified simply because you want to do it. Someone can enjoy killing or inflicting pain upon others but that does not thus legitimise such activities. The urge should be resisted. Nor does the morality of something lie in the number of people who do it. In any case, the claim that as much as a third of the population has homosexual leanings is not quite accurate (and even if it was, what about the other two-thirds?). Of that third many have only thought about it, not actually done it. For the homosexual community, in its attempts to excuse itself, to claim that this is the same thing as being “gay” is a little perverse. The fact that one has the idea of doing a particular thing doesn’t necessarily mean that one will, whether or not anyone thinks the action in question is harmful. And many, perhaps most, gay people are actually bisexual – after all, they have wives and children (Oscar Wilde did). Though if homosexuality is wrong in itself, it can’t be excused by the fact that one is having heterosexual relationships as well; bisexuality also effectively means one is being promiscuous (having at least one heterosexual and at least one homosexual relationship, at the same or different times).
There are a few other points that are worth considering. The physical consummation of a homosexual relationship will consist primarily of fellatio, sodomy and cunnilingus. It is true that heterosexuals can, and sometimes do, perform such activities and also that they are not necessarily wrong in themselves. However, in most heterosexual relationships such activities are only ever a supplement – for some people a necessary one, maybe, but a supplement nonetheless – for “straight”, that is penetrative vaginal sex. With homosexuality they are a substitute for it. Somehow, this does not seem to me entirely clean and proper. They have their place perhaps, but they should stay in it. The trouble is that if you believe there should be no restrictions on the kind of sex one wants to have, provide there is no compulsion, no incest, no animals are harmed and both partners are above the age of consent then you will not be very impressed by such a view. But it is nonetheless worth thinking about. (Regarding non-physical homosexual relationships, which we should acknowledge do exist, if the heterosexual, unless one is celibate and therefore removed from this particular equation altogether, way of life is still meant to be supreme even if only emotional and not physical, and if it is not emotional there is no value in it since it cannot be enriching, then the homosexuality is still wrong even if it does not possess a physical dimension which would be repellent).
It is possible for homosexuality to have an impact on church and society that is not desirable. In the long run, in sexual relationships, marriage rather than cohabitation should be preferred. Marriages where the partners lived together for some time beforehand have been shown to fail much more frequently than ones where they didn't (though this shouldn't of course be an argument against "doing the decent thing"). Yet if we are in favour of "gay rights" we will be left in the position of allowing gays to cohabit and never marry, unless we go to the extent of holding full-blown church weddings during which the priest speaks of coming together to join "this man and this man" in holy matrimony, and which end with him pronouncing the couple "man and husband", whereupon they kiss. Somehow the thought is absurd. And a civil marriage lacks the spiritual force, with all its cementing effect on relationships, of a traditional church wedding, if we think the Christian way of doing things has any advantage over the secular at all. I may add here that gay couples joined in the former fashion are in my experience as likely to split up as heterosexual ones married in a register office.
Marrying homosexuals in church must therefore be out of court; and if we allow unmarried gays to happily cohabit without saying there is anything wrong with it, but don't do the same with heterosexuals, that would be unjustified discrimination (as was decriminialising homosexuality per se before legalising sodomy between heterosexuals, who might be man and wife - an injustice, and particularly to those who feel that a heterosexual relationship in that form (and taking place within marriage) is still more natural than a gay one). Since cohabitation can have damaging effects, homosexuality is therefore treated as acceptable at the cost of permitting something extremely harmful to society. That surely is the best argument against it, from a religious point of view. If something were that damaging God wouldn't want us to do it.
We can also have legitimate doubts about the adoption and raising of children by gay and lesbian couples. There is of course no reason to suppose they will themselves become gay; homosexuals are born, not made. That isn’t the objection. When latent gays themselves reach a certain age they can and do choose which sexual orientation to follow, and the law does not object. But all of us, before that stage in our lives, need a stable home environment in which two parents are present and of those parents, generally one is male and the other female. There must be a mother and a father figure. Why else, when one or other of the two is absent, do we say that someone comes from a broken (I suspect the word nowadays would be “dysfunctional”) home? Many products of such homes end up perfectly stable, law-abiding citizens, but we would nonetheless generally regret the fragmenting effect and not regard it as wrong for us to do so. If we decry the breakdown of the relationship between the mother and the father and its effect on families then we should also object to gay parenting; for us not to do so is inconsistent and hypocritical.
It is often argued by the gay community, partly in order to defend what it does, that those who object to homosexuality are in fact secretly gay themselves. Indeed this may not infrequently be the case; the desire to cover for suppressed tendencies one is uncomfortable about externalising or admitting to manifests itself in vigorous condemnation of them in others (what difference the openness and tolerance towards homosexuality we have seen in the last 20 years has made to this I don’t know). But to suggest it is necessarily the case is flawed logic. It doesn’t follow that to object to something means one actually approves it, privately or otherwise. Going by any reasoning which insists it does, if I express disgust at the murder of an innocent person, for sex or money or revenge or whatever I must inevitably be a secret murderer myself. Besides which being a hypocrite does not mean one is necessarily wrong in what one argues). If homosexuality is a sin then the points which can be made in its defence are ultimately irrelevant. It may be preferable to be a happy, healthy, benevolent homosexual than an unhappy, unhealthy, ill-disposed heterosexual. But it would be even better than that to be neither.

What we should do about homosexuality, then? The truth is that I don’t know. A philosopher is deceiving themselves and others by claiming they necessarily know the answer to every important ethical or metaphysical question. We can only uphold the present law, with one or two reservations, and accept that it to be gay or straight is a matter of personal lifestyle choice. It is possible for a person, whether or not they were gay themselves, to sincerely believe homosexuality was acceptable - in other words they would not in one important respect, that of motive, be sinning even if they were intellectually in the wrong. This has been my experience within the Church; and if a devout Christian, whether clergy or layperson, is not in mortal sin for holding such views then a secular unbeliever is not likely to be (though I would still recommend we consider the passage in Leviticus). As to whether being gay is wrong, perhaps in the end the matter will have to be left to God.

Aspects of the Mind
One of the most frequently asked, whether by the layperson or the academic, questions in philosophy is what are we, and what is it that our identity consists in? Specifically, what makes us individuals? Answering it will take us into realms where we have too little knowledge to be able to arrive at satisfactory conclusions. But I find I can come to some conclusions.
We are aware of having a physical part of ourselves, and a non-physical part which we call the mind, or perhaps the soul. I think most people would accept that the physical component, though it may be essential (even in a Heaven, because logically one could not experience pleasant – or any other - sensations without some sort of physical mechanism, involving something akin to a nervous system, by which the process was accomplished), is not what really determines personal identity. It is basically a container, and the seat of our true identity must be in the mind. Or the soul; and before we go any further we ought to define what the latter is, in case it has any real existence that is independent of the mind.
Religious people, when speaking of the need for salvation by a proper response to the wishes of the god around whom their creed is based, speak of saving a person’s soul, as if this is the essential and most important part of them. And people of all kinds, when describing something as “soulless”, mean that it has no personality. It lacks a kind of vibrant energy, a “life force”, which is combined with individuality because although someone could still have a personality if it was identical to someone else’s in all respects we tend to see soul, in the language we use about it and the ideas that language reflects, as encompassing uniqueness (of one person or entity’s essential character). The concept is of a person, or institution (the latter by the kind of people who run it and the way they do so), having features which are peculiar to itself and being more interesting and colourful as a result; it either chooses those characteristics as a deliberate statement of a wish to be different and independent, which adds to its “soul” by making it more appealing, or it simply has them, which will suffice although if it does have soul it will want to hang on to what creates that. An important part of the business is emotion, because emotion gives one likes and dislikes and determines how you react to certain situations, in the process creating individual personality. “Soul” would also seem to embody self-awareness. Essentially the best thing about the human condition is the ability to give and to receive pleasure and we cannot have it, in any possible world, if it is not "me" or "you" which is perceived as experiencing it.
If the soul is that part of a person which is most valuable it would have to encompass the mind, if not be identifiable with it, as without a mind a person isn’t a lot of good in any case – merely a lump of flesh, at best a robot, a vegetable, a zombie. But bearing in mind what else is supposed to make up “soul”, we can’t be satisfied with that. The overall value of a mind consists not just in its existence but in its ability, using the body’s physical senses, to experience pleasure and communicate it to other minds, through translating good intentions into actions and externalising one’s intellectual and artistic talents. Although in a later chapter I hope to prove that a fully functioning, that is not unconscious or drugged, intelligence must have emotions it is of course possible to at least imagine a mind which, though normal in other respects, lacked them, even if it still functioned differently from other minds (being perhaps more or less clever, or not having the same opinions as them on this or that issue) and so preserved a degree of individuality. But the thought is distinctly unappealing.
It is legitimate to see the soul as incorporating the mind, so much so that in this chapter I will use the terms interchangeably. But if the soul is all which is most valuable about someone, all that makes it such a wonderful thing both to itself and to other souls, then it cannot be just the cerebral part of mind. It has to include the personality; this means essentially the mental attributes which make people different from each other in more than a physical respects, further emphasising the connection between the mind and the soul. People cannot be interesting to themselves and to others if they all think the same way. Or if they all feel the same way; as stated above, a large part of individual personality consists of the particular likes and dislikes each one of us has. Certainly people can’t be very attractive if they don’t have the ability to, for example, love; that love being something which benefits the giver as well as the receiver because of the genuinely uplifting effect of realising you are capable of feeling a non-selfish passion for another. So as we’ve more or less already said, the soul must include the emotions as well as the reason and intellect.
If emotions are part of the soul, and the soul is to be identified with the mind, then we must show emotions to be mental. I believe this is quite possible to do. The essence of mind is thought; so therefore the essence of mind is that of which one is aware. On the higher level with which we’re concerned here, a thought is conscious. Now emotions lead inevitably to intentions. If you like to eat fish and chips, say, you will seek, that is intend, to find a shop that sells it so you can satisfy your desire and if you can’t find one you will be disappointed (which implies an emotion, i.e. regret, and suggests that to have produced such a reaction when frustrated the craving to eat the fish and chips was itself an emotion and not just a basic instinctual hunger). If you are in love with someone you will want to have their company. The liking for something leads to the intention to experience it. And an intention isn’t an intention if it isn’t conscious – that is, is a thought. The liking for something – the emotion – is so closely bound up with the attempt to experience, or to do good for, the object of it – the intention – that they are virtually the same. This implies of course that the emotion had to be itself conscious, and it was; if it wasn’t it could not have affected one’s thinking and/or behaviour because they could not have been aware of it, and it could not have been the cause of their subsequent actions. The essence of emotion is in any case something felt, and so an unconscious emotion is virtually a contradiction in terms. It’s true that sub-conscious thoughts and feelings may influence our conscious behaviour to some extent, in ways we don’t fully realise or understand, but they clearly have a conscious manifestation; something as intense as the pain of bereavement or unrequited love, which can lead people to kill themselves or suffer serious depression, clearly isn’t dreamt. In the case of instinctive behaviour, we are likewise aware of what we are doing (animals may not be); we think “I am doing this” whether or not we realise that “this” is programmed into us rather than the result of free choice.
The three principal components of the mind – emotion, thought and self-awareness – are also, then, those of the soul (self-awareness, involving obviously consciousness (in the realisation of being aware) could perhaps come under the category of thought, but whatever it is is clearly mental). It is therefore legitimate as well as simpler to identify soul with mind; to do so is not just intellectual laziness, a way of avoiding the complications of trying to decide without, it seems at first, having a great deal to go on what else the soul might be.
Having I trust agreed that we’re using the correct terms of reference, we ought now to ask what the mind/soul is made of, and if it has extension. To answer the first question, the best comparison would be with particles of electricity; regarding the second, I don’t really know but it presumably extends over at least the area of the brain, since thought, a function of that organ, is what constitutes mind. But whatever it consists of and however large or small it is, the mind is clearly very different in nature from the body, and for that reason there is much speculation as to how one gets into the other. The exact nature of the interface is still something we don’t understand, but if one accepts what is said in the second chapter of this book - that everything must come from the same source, must in a sense be the same entity, though not always in quite the same form, then mind and body are the same thing, and there should be no strangeness about one being present in the other or the two qualities being able to interact. This is especially so if we regard them as being scientifically similar by virtue of the fact that thought is electrical impulses while matter is composed of atoms which are, in essence, particles of electricity (protons, electrons, neutrons etc) – a view which is surely worth taking on board even if it might not be provable in the way scientists would prefer. Even if not itself electrical mind interacts with the electrical impulse that moves a limb or whatever, so it must have common ground with the impulse just as it has common ground with the organ the impulse moves.
Sentience was always present throughout the kingdom of life in some form or other, becoming more complex and pronounced concurrently with the physical bodies of life forms doing so. If we believe in a creator God we do not have to say that He acts every time a baby human or animal is conceived to infuse the developing organic matter with any mind or "spirit" it can be said to possess (though He could do so without difficulty); it would have made more sense for him to have programmed sentience into the system right from the start, and it appears he did. DNA operates through chemicals, in other words through physical substances, yet carries mental characteristics. There is clearly a link between "mind" and the purely physical functioning of the body, as it is possible for physical damage and malfunction, if severe enough, to cause sentience to cease. It’s possible that a supposedly brain-dead person on a life-support system might actually retain their sentience, merely be unable to express it, but the fact that the sentience had been rendered undetectable by whatever physical damage or decay resulted in the patient’s current state proves the link. And again, the fact that it is possible for thought to be transformed into physical behaviour is yet more proof of an interaction between the mental and the physical, which would require some common ground, some common substance that they both possessed.
It is unlikely, however, that the soul always remains within the body. Even if a brain- or otherwise clinically dead person does somehow retain it the link would have to be severed when a body decomposes and disintegrates after death, or if it is destroyed by an explosion or other form of heat powerful enough to vaporise it and disperse its molecules. So we next need to ask what happens to the soul when the link is cut. Where does it go? It may not, perhaps, “go” anywhere, simply assume a new form, particularly if Heaven or Hell are regarded as states of mind, which they would have to be, whatever else they were, for the Christian system of salvation/damnation – the former involving eternal happiness and the latter eternal suffering, both of which would have to be mentally experienced to be what they are - to work. If the soul once released from the body automatically begins to travel in one direction or another, like a balloon someone has let go of, when the body dies, or perhaps remains in the position the body was in when it ceased to function/was destroyed, God could if desired move it to where he wanted to be for the judgement which precedes salvation or damnation. But perhaps it doesn’t really need to be anywhere, for if Heaven and Hell are states of mind this could also apply to whatever condition a soul is in while being judged (another thing we just don’t know). There isn’t really anything more to be said on this subject, except that atheists believe the soul (assuming they would call it by such a name) doesn’t go places, or do anything for that matter, after death but simply ceases to exist; Christians and Muslims that it spends eternity in either Heaven or Hell, the former at any rate (theories differ in the case of the latter) involving reconstruction in a form at least partly physical; and Buddhists that it undergoes a series of reincarnations in different bodies. In the sense in which the phrase is normally understood, there is of course no scientific proof for any of these beliefs.
When a person's body is destroyed through cremation or something similar (regardless of whether they were "alive" or "dead" at the time), no unidentifiable phenomena which might be their "soul" escaping is ever observed in the vicinity. However the soul could be a special quantity different from ordinary matter or energy, such that it is not detectable by any means so far discovered. If it is mental in nature then surely it could be detected as an electrical discharge when the body releases it, since the essence of mind is thought and thought is electrical impulses. This has not yet been done, but the electricity could be of a special kind which is not detectable by normal means, just as dark matter, say, is a different kind of matter from the usual.
Is the soul actually destroyed by death; for that matter, is it destructible by any other process? In the sense in which it’s normally understood, destruction would mean the reduction of something either to literally nothing or at least to its component parts, the latter in such a way that it could not function as itself. The first is doubtful. Science holds that neither matter (including liquids and gases) nor energy can be destroyed; one can only turn into the other or assume a different form. And philosophical logic would seem to support this, for whatever is created must be created out of something else that already exists, unless it plops spontaneously into being for no reason which by either scientific or philosophical standards is absurd. This would have to apply to anything which had any kind of reality (excluding purely abstract concepts), and so to the soul/mind. The latter is best compared to a form of energy, if the thoughts - such as awareness and being aware of being aware – which constitute a mind are analogous at least to electrical impulses.
Whether the soul can be broken down into component parts is also doubtful. It is portable as long as it is confined within a physical body and if that body is moved against its will, as when someone is kidnapped or arrested for some crime, the soul has to go with it, thus becoming a prisoner as much as the corporeal being is. Nor can a person generally will their soul to leave their body, so that the one is trapped within the other anyway. But to destroy a soul depends on whether the mind is divisible. Philosophers like Descartes thought it was not, and I tend to agree with them. All the things which go to make it up are inevitably linked together, existing symbiotically. They imply each other. Take for example the mind’s consciousness of itself and its consciousness of other things. The first always involves the second; they cannot be separated. To be aware of yourself as a distinct entity means you inevitably have an awareness of other entities from which you are distinct. And your thoughts and memories, to really be “your” thoughts and memories, must be part of yourself; they cannot exist independently of you. The mind therefore cannot be reduced to constituent parts in the same way that matter can. This inescapable truth (that one part of mind implies another and so ensures the essential wholeness of consciousness) must correspond – how exactly we don’t know at present - to the way that the electrical impulses making up the mind (and which are presumably collections of atomic particles) are actually constituted, since it has to have some basis in physical reality, being not solid in the way that matter is but not an abstract concept either. We ought to say that it creates it as well as “corresponds to” it, though it certainly does the latter, for since it is an inescapable truth the universe has to be built round it and not vice versa.
There are several areas where the indivisibility of the soul/mind has a bearing on the question of personal identity. Firstly there is the question of whether there can be collective intelligences such as those sometimes met with in science fiction, which can split off parts of themselves each of which is able to inhabit a different physical body, and the experience of one part of which is automatically translated to the rest even if spatially separated from it. If one's consciousness is necessarily whole, there is no likelihood of such intelligences existing. This might seem to be contradicted by the belief that everything is in effect part of the same mind, that of God (set out in my book The Mills Of God and in the second chapter of this book); but in fact it proves the rule, if anything. Though on one level minds have individual existence, because of the way the part of the universal mind which they make up is arranged (and particularly their confinement within an individualised physical body), it can still be said that they are components of a single mind. That things can be true in one sense but not true in another creates a wide range of possibilities.
It seems that in science fiction there are two kinds of collective intelligence. The first is really a single creature, but able to divide itself into segments, which can be few or many in number (but presumably not unlimited, unless they reproduce in the same manner as living organisms, since each of the particles which make up a mind, to have any reality, must necessarily occupy a finite space; nor can the particles be created out of nothing). Whatever the mechanics of transmitting a thought across long distances, that the segments are spatially separate contradicts the necessary unity of consciousness, so our collective intelligence could not be a single being. Thought could, perhaps, be sent and received in the same manner as an electrical or radio impulse, but the thought our intelligence would be picking up would be someone else’s thought, even if they belonged to the same species as ourselves and members of that species were mentally and physically identical, and not our own. We would be getting a sense of what others of our kind were experiencing but would not be having the experience ourselves - at least not at first hand, which is the point. Possibly you can get a sense of (someone else’s) thought, such as “I am enjoying myself”, in the same way that you can see a flash of light or hear a radio/telephone message, and in that event you would experience it much more directly and intensely than in the normal, for humans at their present stage of evolution, course of events; almost as if it was your own. You might suffer psychological damage if the thought was an unpleasant one (meaning the sender disliked you or a third party, or was going through mental or physical trauma). But it would still not mean it had been your thought or that the essential indivisibility of your mind had been compromised.
The second kind of creative intelligence does not necessary involve one single agency, but is formed by a number of agencies being telepathic. If a certain number of intelligent beings, whether or not they belonged to the same species, were mutually telepathic, so that some of the time at least – it might not work if a member of this psychic gestalt was asleep, or could screen their mind at will, though here again we can but speculate – they could share each others’ thoughts and emotions in the manner described above, they would be in effect a communal brain. But this begs the question; it is a sharing of thoughts between individuals that we are talking about rather than between different parts of the same individual. Unless mental screening so that a given thought could either not be transmitted or not be received is possible, there might be dangers involved in the common telepathy of a group; information overload could cause psychic shock, perhaps mental breakdown, and having the constant sensation of other people’s thoughts in your mind could destroy your own sense of identity, with equally damaging consequences. But you still would have a separate identity even if your consciousness of it had been lost. We would still be dealing with individual minds even if the links between them were such as to catastrophically damage the self-awareness of each.
The above has a bearing on the question of whether it is possible for there to be such things as race memories. An interesting fictional example is found in the Doctor Who story The Silurians, where memories of the persecution of humanity’s distant ancestors by the intelligent reptilian race which ruled the Earth before Man are triggered off when the creatures are revived from the suspended animation in which they have been sleeping for millions of years, resulting in people suffering psychological trauma. This has strange implications which prove it ultimately to be impossible. A memory is an acquired characteristic, and acquired characteristics can’t be inherited. You can't have a memory of something that happened to your ancestors - i.e., happened to someone else. You could only have an impression of their memories, if for example intelligent agencies were able to inhabit a group mind, but it would be an image of something being remembered in real time by another mind rather than a memory of something which had happened to oneself in the past. Probably a race memory is rather an instinct – which we do inherit from our ancestors, but by the medium of genetic transmission. An instinct is a mental quality, involving mental perception, although it is different in nature from other mental qualities such as reason. But an instinct and a memory are not, of course, the same thing. An instinct is implanted in you from birth, whereas for you to have a memory something must first happen to you. It is true that the reason we grow to have such a fear of fire, or any painful source of heat, is partly due to having burnt ourselves, accidentally or through misguided curiosity, when we were children. But the fear seems something built into all living creatures, who are innately aware of its destructive power; insects, with some exceptions, automatically avoid the flame without having had an unpleasant encounter with it (which, in their case, one would not survive to profit by) in earlier life. In humans putting your hand on an incandescent gas ring, or getting hot tea spilled over it, when you’re three years old undoubtedly helps to instill a necessary thermophobia but isn’t essential. But in any case, the fear is either because of something that happened to you personally (it probably happened to millions of other kids at some stage, but that isn’t the point) or is programmed into you anyway.
If our mental characteristics (including instincts) are derived from those of our forebears, and mental characteristics must necessarily be conscious, does this mean we are effectively a group mind (which adds to itself every time a being with consciousness is born)? The thing is that we would have to be in any case. I argued in the first chapter that the mind and the body must both be considered real entities, and also that no two or more entities can come into existence with spontaneity, quite independently of one another. Therefore if other people’s minds are a reality, they must be part of the same reality with us. We are, in that respect, a collective intelligence. But the fact that mental characteristics can be reproduced in successive generations
is a consequence of this. However, while on one level we are a group consciousness on another we are not, because of the particular way our minds and bodies, through the operation of DNA, are structured; that way seems to result in our having an individual consciousness so marked as to apparently contradict the idea of our being a collective one. Our being part of the group mind is an aspect of the essential nature of things, though our understanding is too limited to appreciate it fully; we might say its explanation falls into Causal Category One. Our individuality is a phenomenon which emerges from a particular arrangement of the atoms which make up the universe (an example of Causal Category Two, and thus something second-hand, but nonetheless a truth and an especially important one).
The indivisibility of mind affects all properties of it, including those which are not peculiar to the individual (e.g. their own distinct personality) but are, or can be, shared with other individuals. A character in the Doctor Who story The Mind Of Evil has all the negative impulses removed from his mind, turning him permanently into a good-natured simpleton, and stored in the machine which did this to him. (Why he should become a simpleton is not apparent, since whether you are good or evil has no bearing on how clever you are; even though many very thick people are genuinely nice whereas a lot of clever people aren’t, they can still have wicked thoughts). In any case the scenario can be considered implausible. If they are his negative impulses they are part of his consciousness (evil must be deliberate to be evil, and thus take the form of conscious thought), his mind, and can’t be separated from it. Even if somehow you could do this, other negative impulses would be generated, from time to time, in place of the ones removed. The mere fact that he is good means he must have the ability to at least think evil. A sentient being totally without negative impulses could not exist, since to have the concept of good necessary implies the concept of evil, and vice versa. Any emotion involves the thought, at least, of its opposite, and without that thought the opposite cannot exist. A quality and the idea of its antithesis thus necessarily occur within the same mind. Hence, Dr Jekyll could not possibly separate his evil side from himself and transfer them to Mr Hyde; all he could transfer would be the inclination to give in to it. In any case Jekyll and Hyde although qualitatively different are quantitatively the same being, which has merely altered its form.
The indivisibility of mind means that minds and what is in them, such as memories, cannot be copied. It would not be possible to duplicate someone's memories and transfer them to another person, or a completely new person, either a copy of the original or someone who has been created Frankenstein-like from scratch, entailing that the recipient of the memories did not actually have the experiences they remember. This is something which occurs quite often in science fiction, but I don’t think it could do so in reality. The superhero Captain Scarlet in the television series of that name is killed and then reconstructed as their servant in their attempts to destroy the world by the alien Mysterons. The thinking behind all this is a little confused (Captain Scarlet was, after all, originally intended as a children’s proramme, and the writers may not have felt a need to ensure everything made logical sense). When someone is taken over by the Mysterons they are described as being no longer human, a soulless robot in the hands of their Martian masters. And yet evidence suggests their humanity remains dormant beneath the surface. When Captain Scarlet is killed a second time it triggers off some side-effect (peculiar to him) of the “Mysteronisation” process, by which he not only recovers but acquires the power of indestructibility. Our main concern, however, is that it also breaks the Mysterons’ conditioning over him, and he becomes again a normal human being on the side of the good guys. To all intents and purposes he is Captain Scarlet, with it would seem Captain Scarlet’s memories and personality. But Mysteronisation involves making a copy of the victim after they have been killed, rather than reanimating the original. So although fortunately he is on our side, is he really Captain Scarlet? One book on the series suggests that the Mysteronisation process duplicates the minds and memories of people as well as their physical bodies; so that although strictly speaking he isn’t Captain Scarlet, he might as well be.
But this isn’t possible because by definition memories, however much they ultimately determine personal identity, can only be memories of something that has happened to oneself, and thus it is impossible to transfer them to another individual – for the copy is not you, it is a copy (entailing it could not have an adult intelligence since it is the experiences we have in growing up, and thus the memories of same, which make us adults). My memories can only be my memories, even if other people's are qualitatively the same as mine, because I am qualititatively not identical with them. I am quantitatively identical only with myself. What’s more likely is that Scarlet’s consciousness and memories were transferred to the physical duplicate when it was created (we can’t say how, although interestingly it is implied that a person’s mind remains, at least for a time, within or in the neighbourhood of their body after “death” and can also be transmitted in the manner of a radio impulse or light wave). The Mysterons probably know that the duplication of a memory, as opposed to a unit of matter, is impossible.
Otherwise, one could only create an image of the memory, as with reproducing a photograph, if thoughts can leave impressions which are distinct from the thoughts themselves and from the person who is having the thoughts. If you tapped into someone's brain, through telepathy or some yet-to-be-developed technological means, you might be able to see an image of their thoughts, whether of something which was happening to them presently or something which had happened to them in the past (perhaps the thoughts could be translated into pictures on a TV screen). Or the image could be transmitted directly into your own brain. But it would bring no feeling of having previously experienced its subject because you did not. You would merely be seeing an image of what had happened to someone else. That image is no more likely to be the container for an intelligent conscious agency than my photograph or my reflection in a mirror is likely to suddenly engage me in conversation and expound its views on the big political or philosophical issues of the day. A photographic image – along with any other object or energy-state - might be sentient in the sense that everything is an idea in the mind of God (if you believe that theory), but it does not have its own sentience as well. Of course if the memory we were seeing an image of was of something particularly evocative, or traumatic, it might have a profound effect upon the recipient, but their experience would still be of seeing the image rather than of remembering the event which had given it rise. If the impression is created by the thoughts, is derived from them, then a sense the impression is sentient, though it would still be an impression of another sentience that you were picking up and not your own. It is to my mind perfectly feasible – and is often attested to by level-headed people who are not particularly inclined to believe in the supernatural – that in a place where something bad (such as untimely death) has happened, causing suffering, depression or anger, a negative feeling is generated which lingers even after the people who were there at the time have gone, and if so this may be a case of what we have been talking about. There is not necessarily a suggestion that an actual malevolent intelligence is presence. And for a mind to have a detectable imprint which is separate from itself is not a problem if we’re all one sentience anyway. Yet as we have established, although on one level the mind is part with all other minds and God’s with the group intelligence, on another it has an individual identity and self-consciousness and thus the existence of the group mind does not mean an individual can have a memory of something they have not experienced. It is a question of conditions: if a portion of the universal mind is separated from the rest and placed in a physical container, as well as sufficiently distant spatially from other finite minds, then because it was in such a state at the time the experience occurred it can never remember the experience as its own, even though it may afterwards sense the impressions the experience left in another, and however much it still is part of the universal mind and was at the time the experience occurred.
Even if you and I were spatially close to another and thus able to experience some, at least, of the same stimuli (two people going to sea in the same boat might both get seasick), we would still be quantitatively different and thus have different selfconsciousnesses – my memories would still be mine and not yours even if we were experiencing, and later recollecting, the same thing.

We need to ask whether human clones, if created, would be different from each other in anything but a numerical sense. With animals (who have been cloned), there is no problem, since as far as we can establish non-human species do not have personalities or self-consciousness in the human sense (which is why the question of whether, for example, oviparous life forms, which in any case are usually found amongst the lower strata of the animal kingdom, are exactly the same as each other is not of so much concern). Do they prove that an individual can be divided; for that matter, does the splitting of a zygote to form twins? And if twins are an example of the divisibility of an individual, then cloning certainly would be. But conversely, the current scientific thinking is that clones wouldn’t be much different from identical twins, and if clones are not a compromise of individuality then identical twins (and still less, any twins) aren’t likely to be. That identical twins aren’t quite identical either has in any case been proved. Neither twins (of whatever kind) or clones are quantitatively the same, so in one sense there would still be individuality even if it was purely numerical. What we are asking is whether they are different in terms of their nature, rather than of how many of them there are; and in particular their mental nature, since it is not the physical body which determines personal identity (as opposed to being a helpful indicator of it in a world where minds inhabit corporeal containers). If what happens when the zygote divides is a form of cell division, and genes and thus organic matter carry mental characteristics, then it must be true that the mind divides (though only at this initial stage; it would appear that once it comes into being an individual soul is not hereafter divisible, because of the nature of what has been created). Whether the mind divides into identical units is another matter. It appears not, because there is some other factor (perhaps the phenomenon which is called genetic drift, thought that is pure conjecture on my part as I’m not a scientist) which prevents identical twins or clones from being genetically, and thus both physically and mentally, the same. We may also reflect that the fact they were quantitatively different would of itself mean that a clone and its original, or two or more clones, were in one sense different individuals even if this was not so in other respects.
It has been suggested on occasions in science fiction that a clone and its original can to some extent share experiences even when spatially separate. In another Doctor Who story, The Invisible Enemy, clones of the Doctor and his assistant Leela are injected into the Doctor’s bloodstream in order to locate and destroy an alien virus which is taking over his mind and body. When, later, Leela is knocked out her clone, though remaining conscious, feels the shock. We are told it is because they are of the same tissue. But for it to happen they must be quantitatively, and not just qualitatively, of the same tissue. In other words they must be physically connected, directly or indirectly. But Leela and her clone are spatially separate. They may be of the same tissue but they are not in the same space, and you have to explain how they are able to have the same experience. As there are no nerve endings linking them, one cannot possibly feel the same sensations as the other (for it is a plain fact that that is how sensations are transmitted). Note that an ordinary child may correctly be said to be of the same tissue as its parents, yet it does not automatically share every experience they undergo, wherever either they or it happen to be.
For Leela's clone, which is still a different individual even if it is possible for it to be qualitatively identical to the original, to automatically have the same experiences as its master print implies a gross distortion of the nature of space. The scenario presented to us in The Invisible Enemy (Leela's clone sharing in the master's experiences because they are the same tissue) implies the same mind can be divisible. Yet the same mind is not divisible.
The sharing of experiences might still be possible if clones have some kind of psychic link between them, as is sometimes said to exist between twins (given the particularly close relationship, biologically and often emotionally, which twins have it doesn’t seem altogether implausible). When the British television personality Ross McWhirter was assassinated by the IRA his identical twin brother Norris is said to have felt the shock, even though he was thirty miles away and could not have known what was going to happen. If this is what occurred, how can we explain it? It is possible that minds send out some kind of signal, in the manner of radio waves, and that similar kinds of mind (like those of twins?) are attuned to receive it (they will do so whether they wish to be or not, by their nature). The signal may not always be picked up, and indeed it might be better if it wasn’t because of the information overload and resultant psychic stress it would cause. But it might be received when a particularly traumatic incident, such as death, amplified it or produced a kind of feedback effect.
But this explanation, even if unproven, is at least plausible. It doesn’t automatically follow that if one of two quantitatively different entities, separated spatially, has a certain experience the other will necessarily be aware of it simply because there is a biological similarity, however close, between them. There must be a particular reason why the similarity is able to have this effect, something not incompatible with the nature of time and space and of logic, for otherwise those things would work to prevent it. The Who scriptwriters may not have had Ross McWhirter in mind. If this kind of long-distance telepathy is to happen, it must happen for the right reason – even if that reason is some fact about the universe which we do not yet fully understand and may therefore seem crazy – and not for one that is impossible in any possible world.
It might be added that the scenario depicted here is impossible anyway because the Leela and Doctor clones are grown to adulthood within seconds from the tissue samples taken from their originals.
This isn’t actually what happens with cloning; the cell from which the new organism develops has to be implanted in the womb of a living mother, from whom it is born and then grows up in the usual fashion. It might be possible to accelerate purely physical growth so that it could be accomplished in less than a minute, but the result would be mentally a child. The nature of the mind means that clones couldn’t have an adult self-consciousness without first going through the process of mental development from childhood to maturity, which involves a wide range of different experiences plus the memory of same, and that learning would necessarily take a long time to accumulate. This problem would remain even if the clones having to have, in order to do their job, memories of things they couldn’t have experienced could be explained by the memories simply being images to which they had been programmed to react in the desired fashion.

We don’t know the exact process by which a mind/soul is created, but it would appear that once it is created it is indivisible, and thus indestructible. I suspect that by the same token it cannot be reabsorbed into whatever created it – an intelligence such as God, perhaps – so that it loses its separate existence and identity; such would, in effect, amount to its “destruction” as much as disintegrating it into its component atoms. The soul could still be unhappy – if it had not been good during the time when it inhabited the flesh, it might be consigned to hell, which is something awful whether it’s a place or a state of mind, for all eternity. But it could not be destroyed (I suspect that when Jesus speaks of God as being able to “destroy both body and soul in hell” he is using hyperbole – as he often did, the aim in this case being to create a frightening image which would serve as a warning against misconduct). But this is something which, I must confess, cannot be proven. I do however believe that the soul cannot be destroyed by any other means than reabsorption into the parent body. If, as an alternative to the latter, it is kept alive in a state of suffering this would be as a necessary punishment, since there is little point in trying to sell devotion to God, and thus salvation, as something essential unless the alternative is infinitely nasty. Nor would reabsorption be our fate in Heaven, since going by the nature of the earthly world God seems to value individuality (and thus, by the same token, diversity), which thererore must be a feature of Heaven if Heaven is the best of al possible worlds.
I find I have a curiosity to ask: if God in creating souls is splitting off bits of Himself which have their own identity and self-consciousness, rather than His, can he then be said to be destroying Himself? This might not seem to be a problem if He is infinite in extent, as he has to be to be omnipresent, which he probably is because there’s no reason why the universe, the total number of spatial locations where he can be, should begin or end in any one place rather than another, meaning that it is of necessity endless. This might just mean that He was destroying Himself infinitely, if he were to create enough independent souls. But he doesn’t have to worry about that. On one level everything is God, is an idea in his mind whether or not it also has physical form, because there is no reason why He (and thus the universe with which He is identifiable) should begin or end at any one point or in any one direction – unless he just happens to, which is absurd.
On another level, another plane, people have their own separate and individual consciousnesses and identities, because of the way they are designed. The fact that they inhabit physical bodies – which are each different from one another – helps to further that sense of individuality, of being oneself, even if it is not enough on its own to do the job. It does so partly by isolating us from the parent body, the universal (as opposed to the particular) mind and reinforcing our separateness from it. This isolation is necessary, even desirable, if the individuality is to be maintained. The importance of the physical envelope in making us all different is one reason why the soul in Heaven must inhabit some kind of body, however like or unlike it is to the one we’ve got now.
A question worth asking is whether sentient minds (other than God’s, which doesn’t appear to need any kind of body) can exist within a non-organic, or any kind of non-human, container. The purely mental aspect of this question is dealt with in the chapter on artificial intelligence. Whether it would be possible in physical biological terms – whether, for whatever reason, a carbon-based mammalian species of the order of primates is the only one capable of harbouring an intelligent consciousness – is a question at present unanswerable. We don’t have enough to go on, for the simple fact that we haven’t yet encountered any other kinds of sentient life. That’s not to say they couldn’t exist. Where non-organic materials are concerned there may even be grounds for supposing that they could, if the structure of a piece of silicon and the processes going on inside it can parallel those of organic life forms. The workings of artificially constructed machinery often do, so maybe it is possible for there to be sentient computers, or sentient any other kind of machine. But none of this affects the question of what causes individuality, since this would remain whether we were talking about intelligent apes, intelligent lizards or intelligent rocks.
The next question we must consider is that of what makes me ME, in other than a mechanical sense. There would not be much value in individuality if it was simply a matter of quantity. I would still be indivisibly me rather than you, but my awareness of myself as being distinct from other things would be vague. Our self-consciousness seems to be more complex than that. It necessarily involves having particular characteristics which others don’t, as well as – and this is the thing – being conscious of them. But whether one is conscious of being an individual is irrelevant to the question of whether one is an individual, since one would be numerically different from other people and objects regardless of whether one knew that one was. And individuality isn’t just a matter of perceiving a thought as my thought and no-one else’s, for other minds have thoughts too, or they wouldn’t be minds. Similarly, although having a particular hobby is an example of a character trait which personalises oneself, in our own eyes and others’, it may be that other people follow that hobby too, so that I’m not therefore a unique quantity. Likes and dislikes, and particular opinions on political, religious and philosophical matters, help to form personality but others may share them. If I have any particular experience or personality trait, and know that I have them – both essential prerequisites of self-awareness – this would not necessarily make me different from anyone else. They might have the same experiences or personality traits.
Memory is said to be an important part of our individual self-consciousness. It does have some bearing on personal identity and how flexible it is, as we saw in the case of Captain Scarlet. But memories could be of things which other people have experienced too. Nor can memory determine personal identity in any case because you would still be you if you were only quantitatively different. You would just be less likely to realise it. It is thought to be memory plus self-consciousness which creates personal identity; I know that it is me who is having this or that experience, and remembering it, instead of or as well as you. But they don’t make a difference either together or separately, because being both self-aware and having memories is a characteristic of all people.
It has been said that experience forms character, and “character” in that context can be taken to mean individual personality as well as that moral fibre which we are supposed to develop as a result of adversity, learning or our response to any situation which demands some kind of decision. Undoubtedly not everyone reacts to the same experience in entirely the same way. But if we are capable of reacting to the same experiences differently then we already are individualised. If we did react all the same way then of course we would not be individualised.
A clone, whose individual uniqueness or lack of it is often a subject for debate, and has a bearing on the general question of personal identity, may still be programmed (in effect) to react to a given experience in the same way as its original or another clone taken from the original’s tissue; it just didn’t happen to have the experience, so we didn’t see the similarity. Of course in cases where a matter is important enough for it to be inappropriate to decide it on the basis of what we would prefer by nature to do, yet there seems no ultimately incontrovertible argument for choosing one of the possible courses of action as opposed to another, the actions of both cloned and non-cloned people would stem from free will rather than anything determined. A clone’s behaviour has the potential to vary from that of its original, and from its “brothers” or “sisters”; a non-clone’s from any other person, cloned or otherwise. Ultimately, my individuality does not lie in how I react to experiences because each person is not programmed to act in one of a number of possible ways when confronted with a given situation, where free will has any say; their behaviour is not determined. Hence it is not due to something that is fundamental to their individual nature (any more than it is fundamental to the nature of all people). We are dealing with a variable and not something constantly present that makes me me as opposed to someone else. And someone could chance to take the same decision as me on an open-ended issue. Ultimately what makes me more than just quantitatively myself is something that’s difficult to define. Fortunately if the scientists are right, it is there. As mentioned earlier the current thinking is that clones would be no more identical than identical twins are (and identical twins aren’t identical). Genetic drift may have something to do with this. If everyone ended up cloned there might be a psychologically damaging effect on society, (a) because if too many people were physically alike it could cause confusion in personal relationships and (b) the world would be an intolerably dull place; both reasons why the practice of human cloning should be severely restricted. But they would still be different people. We will need to look to biological factors to explain why an individual human being is more than numerically unique. How exactly they do explain it is not clear at present; but they do appear to be the medium by something very necessary, and indeed wonderful, enters the world.

NB If we do, on one level, constitute a group mind (along with the universe as a whole), it removes one major obstacle to the existence of telekinesis (or of telepathy, as we have already shown). It should be quite conceivable in itself for thoughts to move objects because that is what happens, more or less, when I raise my arm. But that my thoughts could move objects which are not part of my physical body, which are not quantitatively identical with it, is another matter. They (and thus my mind, because it is my thoughts which constitute my mind) would have to leave my body to do that, and so the union which produces me in my present earthly form would be broken down. But if my mind is part of a single universal mind in any case, there should be no problem with my projecting my thoughts either into another human mind or in order to move a chair or table to a new position. At the moment we don’t know how to do that, but we couldn’t with absolute certainty say we never will.

The Logic of Emotions

Whether intelligences without emotion, such as the Cybermen from Doctor Who or the Borg from Star Trek, can possibly exist is an interesting philosophical question. Unfortunately, a completely unemotional intelligence is so difficult for us to conceive of that unless one actually is possible, and we happen to meet it, we have no way of being able to answer that question. However, my own reflections on the matter suggest to me that if there is an answer at all, it is most likely to be no. This chapter is an attempt to explain why, taking the Cybermen as a case in point.
They are humanoid life forms, inhabiting originally the planet Mondas, who over a period of time replaced the whole of their organic bodies, except for the brain, with metal and plastic components. It is not quite clear whether this was done for the sake of greater efficiency or as a response to disease, infertility, or natural disaster, all things which would threaten their race’s continued existence as long as they remained organic beings. Whatever their motives, they appear to have failed to see where this science was leading them; their survival was bought at a cost. We are told that in the process of “cybernisation” they gradually lost their humanity, coming to believe that emotion, as well as the limitations of an organic body, made for inefficiency and was best discarded. It was this lack of emotion that led them, in search of a purpose in life, to devote their energies to conquest, enslaving other races and converting them, too, into Cybermen in the belief that they were being done a favour.
There seems to be plenty of evidence, however, that the Cybermen are not as emotionless as they would have others believe. In the stories Earthshock, Revenge of the Cybermen and The Five Doctors they frequently express emotional concepts; for example they have enough pride to refer to themselves as warriors. The outstanding case of emotional behaviour on their part is found in Revenge of the Cybermen where, among other things, they tie up the Doctor and his companion Sarah and leave them to perish on the space beacon Nerva which they have loaded with bombs and set to crash into the planet Voga. This is sadistic more than anything else. Its value as evidence against the Cybermen's being truly emotionless lies in its manifestly not serving the Cyber cause and in fact positively working against it. Given the Cybermen's overwhelming need, since they can no longer reproduce biologically (having divested themselves of both their organic bodies and the urge to have sex), to maintain and increase their numbers through conversion of organic life forms, it would have been far more sensible for them to have cybernised the two humanoids. And of course if they'd done that, or just shot the Doctor, they'd have avoided their subsequent problems with him and would now be well on the way to becoming masters of the universe!
These things must be the result primarily of bad scripting or characterisation by the writers, so obvious is their incompatibility with everything else we know about the Cybermen. But if one has to find explanations for them, in case there were ever real life Cybermen and they behaved in such a way, what would those explanations be?
Where Revenge of the Cybermen is concerned, the only conclusion must be that some residual emotion had got out of control; a properly functioning Cyberman would not normally act in such a fashion. It is true that a similar incident occurs in Earthshock, where three characters are left with two Cybermen on a freighter which has been programmed to crash into the Earth, but this is for the purpose of studying human reactions to stress, no doubt in case the knowledge gathered proves useful in some way to the Cyber cause.
In other instances where the Cybermen appear emotional, displaying such qualities as anger, hatred, cruelty or exultation, either it is intended to frighten human enemies and so ensure their submission (as in Steve Lyons’ Who novel Killing Ground), or is because the intensity with which the Cyber cause, if that cause is important enough to its followers, is pursued must inevitably lead to something analogous to, but not necessarily identifiable with, emotion, at moments equally of success and frustration (as suggested by Doctor Who writer David Banks in his book Cybermen). Such instances do not by themselves prove the Cybermen ultimately to be emotional beings; what does, in the end, is a philosophical study of the nature of emotion and of the mind.
An intelligent life form whose brain, or brain-equivalent, was functioning rationally would orientate its behaviour around some kind of purpose. Our own example, which is the only one we have to go by, suggests that the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form, is the only purpose there could possibly be to life. Although history has known many people who have wreaked havoc and caused misery on a massive scale in order to satisfy their negative emotions, there has never been anyone who has consciously tried to eradicate emotion altogether, whether from their own life or the lives of others. There are undoubtedly people who lack humour, and sometimes seek to deny others the opportunity to experience pleasure; these people, however, act in the way they do because they have been unsuccessful at achieving happiness. There is usually some sort of psychological trauma at the root of their behaviour. It is conceivable that some individuals, if they were particularly perverse, might seek to eradicate emotion from society out of spite because it would make for a dull and uninteresting existence, but we would still be talking about an attempt to satisfy an emotion, albeit a negative one (i.e cruelty). And a sadist wouldn’t want to erase feeling from others because then he couldn’t make them suffer and so get his kicks.
Similarly, if the Cybermen pursue the way of logic because it has
for them a kind of beauty (as it does to many human philosophers),
or because they think they will be happier without the hang-ups and stress emotions cause, then their ultimate motive is still emotional, whatever they might say.
For ourselves, and I believe any other intelligent life forms which may exist in the cosmos, reason is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. That end is the gratification of emotion (hopefully of a positive kind). Reason, argued the eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, should be the slave of the passions, and invariably it is. We use logic as the means by which we can best solve problems which threaten the continuation of our existence (if we do not exist at all, we can’t debate this whole issue), reduce the quality of that existence by causing pain, ill health or poverty, or stand in the way of us improving it – in other ways, prevent happiness. If we are angered by someone's acting in an illogical way, it is because their behaviour is an obstacle to those all-important goals by having some adverse effect on human material or spiritual happiness. If reason is ever the master, rather than the slave, of the passions it is for the passions' own sake.
One can, of course, have emotion without reason. Because emotion is the ultimate purpose of life in any case we may sometimes, when
the brain is not functioning properly or our nature is simply flawed, convince ourselves that we have no need of anything else. (Most people, of course, actually condemn illogical emotion, even if sometimes they are still guilty of it). But this is one truth whose converse does not apply; though you can have emotion without reason you cannot have reason without emotion, since the latter is the whole purpose of the former.
Logically, one can only either like to exist (or not like to exist, i.e. be in a suicidal frame of mind - in other words be acting emotionally, the emotion experienced being sadness) or simply exist. If the latter is the case, then existence has no purpose and is therefore illogical, unless one is a life form which has no concept of "existence" at all - in other words is not sentient. If an intelligent being or beings pursues a particular goal and does not do so mindlessly, out of instinct or being under hypnosis etc, then they must have a particular interest in doing so, implying they will experience some kind of satisfaction at achieving the goal, or the thought of achieving it. This more or less establishes the centrality of emotion in our lives, and once it has done so we may as well go on to love life and sex and friendship and pretty pictures and cute furry animals and beautiful landscapes, etcetera etcetera etcetera. For this reason a sentience which does not possess emotion is to me inconceivable. Of course, in a person who has been drugged emotion may be dulled or even suppressed entirely, but in their drugged state they could not in any case be counted as fully sentient.
Since the gratification of emotions is the only purpose for the existence of sentient life forms, to reject emotion would if anything be irrational. If, therefore, creatures like the Cybermen could actually exist in real life, it must be accepted that they would not, strictly speaking, be emotionless, although they might perhaps believe themselves to be - liking to think, if the unemotional life is supposed to be superior, that they have something others don’t - or find it advantageous to portray themselves as emotionless so as to appear less vulnerable, and so more frightening, to their enemies.
A desire to destroy emotion and replace it with logic would itself constitute an emotion; so if we are not talking about a contradiction in terms, the Cybermen must at most be practising emotion of a sort which is simply different from that experienced by humans. The cause of pure logic would have to be a passion in itself, and if believed in sincerely enough would have to be pursued with sufficient emotional intensity for the whole point of
it to be destroyed. Maybe this is what has happened to the Cybermen, although they do not realise it (that they are intellectually blinkered is suggested by their failure to, for example, appreciate that changing history by causing Halley's comet to crash into the Earth in 1985 might have catastrophic repercussions, for themselves as much as anyone else, through its effect on the timeline).
Another reason they cannot be emotionless is that certain activities, which are or may become essential to the survival of a society, require more than purely logical thinking (and Cybermen devote themselves entirely to logic, in pursuit of the all-important goal of efficiency) of the sort that will drive out emotion. In their attempts at conquest the Cybermen find themselves actively opposed by those who naturally resist their advances, and so they have to be military tacticians. Warfare involves intuition, and sometimes the willingness to take a risk, as much as logical planning. On that probably depended the success of commanders such as Marlborough, Wellington and Montgomery. Granted, the risk may be a calculated one, but it still seems that the Cybermen would be so rigidly logical they’d be at a disadvantage compared to emotional life forms. Although they retain their negative emotions (such as lust for power and hatred of creatures supposedly inferior to themselves) – always assuming the Cybermen do not – the Daleks, Doctor Who’s other great enemy, are similar to them in that in other respects they tend to be governed by cold, machine-like logic. If in military combat with a similar race, such as the robot Movellans, they become trapped in a permanent stalemate through fear of taking risks, neither side willing to make any move which could conceivably result in unacceptable losses and therefore seems illogical. The first side to make an illogical move would win the battle – thereby giving human opponents a crucial advantage. The Cybermen would risk finding themselves in such a situation as much as the Daleks. Nor can one see how they could sustain the scientific progress necessary for the development of the advanced technology (including androids and bacteriological warfare) they use in order to conquer planets, for scientific discovery involves intuition as well as the use of logic and knowledge. I fail to see how either the Cybermen or the Daleks could achieve much in the way of science in the first place. Following the perfection of the technology which made them cybernetic in the first place, their development would cease. It does seem to be the case that some scientific discoveries, at least, come about through a flash of inspiration of the sort Cybermen, preferring the use of logic which is a deliberative and therefore slower process, would not be capable. Beings of pure reason lack imagination. The problem is sometimes solved in the Doctor Who world by the Cybermen or Daleks getting an emotional being to do the job for them, reprogramming their battle computers to occasionally make “illogical” moves, or developing technology which will give them crucial advantages over all other powers. However, such a person in order to get the most out of them would have to be acting as a human normally would – in other words their emotional responses could not be conditioned by drugs, hypnosis or any other form of mind control. That being the case, they would hardly sympathise with the Cybermen and would be constantly planning to escape from them – because their captors would know they could never serve the Cyber cause willingly – or to undermine them from within. Having the advantages conveyed by imagination, lateral thinking etcetera, they would probably succeed. Besides, if lack of intuition/imagination is the handicap which it is the Cybermen would be vulnerable to anything humans might choose to do to them, whether involving military action or some form of espionage. Even if intelligences like them could exist in the first place, they wouldn’t be very successful.
At best the Cybermen are seriously misguided. At worst they are deliberately pretending to be emotionless when they aren’t; whatever the truth, their creed is entirely false, and hypocritical (consciously or unconsciously) and it doesn't justify all the death and suffering they've caused in trying to propagate themselves.

Since emotional gratification is the one and only reason for human existence, the transformation of the humanoid Mondasians into Cybermen must have taken place either very slowly or very quickly, so that they could not have been aware of what was happening (we must assume the Mondasians to have been emotionally very like ourselves, or there would be little point in the Cybermen serving as an example of the dangers of over-reliance on technology, as they are meant to do). If they had been aware of it, they would most probably have aborted the process, whatever the consequences. The decision to excise emotion could have been taken because a normal human brain enclosed within an otherwise mechanical body, and unable therefore to enjoy the usual sensations which people find pleasant, would experience discomfort and possibly madness. This however would imply that the Mondasians understood why emotion mattered so much, how important it was, and also therefore that they wouldn’t want to get rid of it; unless those taking the decisions were a small minority, dedicated to the survival of their race but nonetheless selfish, who subjected the rest of the population to Cybermen while themselves remaining organic. This wouldn’t be worth it unless there was a reasonable certainly of some of the population (themselves) surviving the threats to the species without having to be Cybernised along with everyone else. But perhaps that would be the case. The upshot of this is that most Mondasians, at any rate, may not be responsible for their Cybernised condition anyway (leaving out the question of how the minority was able to Cybernise the majority against its will), and if given a choice might have decided the advantages outweighed the benefits. Inhabitants of other planets who the Cybermen conquer certainly don’t have that choice.
If the Cybermen as a whole are to be reviled, that implies that both those who opted for their condition and those on whom it was forced could choose to act other than as they now do, but don't. They may have been Cybernised against their will but they nonetheless cling to their condition and way of life even though it is wrong. If Cybermen are compensating for lack of soul by lusting after power then this is a negative emotion, one all too evident in many human beings: the desire to compensate for or cover up some personal inadequacy or depravity through aggression. But it is unlikely all of them would be guilty of it. Yet apart from one, Kroton, who appears from time to time in comic strips in Doctor Who Magazine, there isn't a single instance of this (and Kroton's recovery of emotion and morality may have been due to his malfunctioning, rather than his consciously opting to do the right thing). You would expect there to be at least a few who questioned their actions and opted for a different modus vivendi, rather than just one or none at all. But bear in mind that any Cybermen who did rebel might run the risk of destruction/punishment; with totalitarian regimes such as we are implying here, fear of the consequences of resistance has an imprisoning effect. Also, if rebellion implied a decision to return to the emotional life it would entail that they saw the whole value of an organic existence; whereupon the psychological damage of being trapped in an inorganic body would destroy them (as seems to happen in the Who story Invasion when emotion is introduced into several Cybermen by a device called a Cerebration Mentor).
But if Cybermen do have a choice not to be Cybermen, or at any rate not to Cybernise people against their wishes - if they know that what they do is wrong - then that implies they have a concept of morality (one can't choose to do something unless one has a concept of it). And morality implies emotion. It stems from a dislike of certain things and a desire to do others. We behave in a beneficial and considerate way towards someone because we have a repugnance towards killing them or injuring them physically or psychologically; and repugnance implies an emotional feeling. It could be objected that there are people who stress the importance of morality but are really rather cold and heartless. However these people are self-righteous, which also implies an emotion, i.e. vanity. Some people act "morally" out of social conditioning rather than genuine virtue and are selfish, rude and arrogant - but those too are emotions.
Philosophically, there is another thing worthy of note about the Cybermen. Though they purge themselves of their organic bodies, their emotions, and their individuality they leave their original brains intact. One is inclined to think they might as well, from their point of view, get rid of the brain too since all that makes a person what they are has already been destroyed or suppressed. And yet they don't. The Cybermen still seem to have some concept of, and see value in, personal identity (not quite the same thing as individuality; a vase is different from another vase, even though they may be identical in appearance and design). They understand that I cannot be said to enjoy (if that is the right word to use in connection with Cybermen) the benefits of Cybernisation if it is not me who is being Cybernised. The brain must therefore be retained as it is the centre of thought and awareness, and thus of self-identity.
This implies that Cybermen have memories of their previous lives, which would inevitably be associated with emotion. We are, in our human form, so fundamentally emotional beings that any recollection of our previous identity would have that effect. Emotion is inextricably connected with the desire to cause pleasure, either in ourselves or others, and the only kind of pleasure we have any concept, any awareness, of is that obtained through interaction of organic bodies with the environment. Cybermen converted from organic, emotional beings would have known no other kind previous to conversion and so could have no concept of one. The very preservation of personal identity would result, as what I’ve said above makes clear, in madness.
Fortunately, we are in no danger of becoming Cybermen; they probably couldn't exist, nor could they do a lot of damage if they did. The real danger we face stems from our insistence on indulging our negative emotions: prejudice (of whatever kind), greed, foolishness, narrow-mindedness, egotism, inverted snobbery, hypocrisy. We see technology not as an end in itself, something better than emotion, but rather as a means of achieving emotional gratification; those emotions sometimes being entirely negative, and potentially very dangerous.
My thanks to Andy Hardstaffe for suggesting the title of this chapter, which first appeared as an article in the Doctor Who fanzine The Doctor’s Recorder.

Artificial Intelligence
The increasing reliance of our society on computers, and their greater and greater complexity, has raised the question of whether they can be sentient. Apart from being philosophically interesting, that question is important because of its ethical implications. Essentially what we are asking here is whether computers are consciously intelligent. It is the possibility of consciousness which causes all the potential ethical and legal problems - for one thing, a computer that was not conscious could not be sued for its actions. The conclusions reached in this discussion of the matter may be taken as applying to robots, whether human-like or otherwise, as the same issues apply to them as to computers.
At all times we would of course have to be sure that a human being had not mischievously interfered with the computer so as to make others think it had intelligence. And to be certain that it didn’t have intelligence, whether or not that was something which could be established without too much difficulty. It has been suggested that the criteria for deciding if a computer is sentient or not is whether one knows one is dealing with a conscious intelligence, when it is processing information and coming up with answers to questions based on that data, rather than just a computer, or is not sure. But the fact that we are unable to tell whether or not it is sentient does not necessarily mean that it is sentient. If we are, in fact, wrong in calling it intelligent, though we may not know that we are, it would be a very dangerous wrong in view of the complex moral and legal issues that would arise.
Supposing we assume that a computer can become sentient, how would we know that it had? I originally thought that it would be impossible for us to know because the nature of computers and computer programming was such that we could never be sure if the computer was exhibiting real sentience or its apparently sentient behaviour was merely a malfunction or an unforeseen consequence of its programming. However, if computer programmers know their stuff they would presumably be able to tell the difference. Or would they? It seems computers are too complex for us to be able to understand and control properly, otherwise the whole issue of whether they could be sentient would not arise in the first place, unless those who raise the question are merely wasting time with foolish notions.
For a computer to demonstrate that it was sentient it would have to behave in ways which could not be attributed directly to its programming. As long as it simply obeyed instructions there would be no indication it had a mind of its own. It would have to do things independently of whether anyone had told it to. In communicating with people, through a message on a screen or by a synthetic voice, it would have to say what was clearly not a part of its programming. The difficulty is that any sufficiently advanced computer would have been programmed with all kinds of suggestions as to how to solve a particular problem, so it would never be saying anything you wouldn’t assume it had effectively been told to. It may also have been programmed, for the sake of user-friendliness, to simulate emotion so it would occasion no surprise if it told a joke or cheerily asked its operator how they were this fine morning. If the computer was not a particularly advanced model by the standards of the time and did these things entirely unexpectedly this might be a better indicator of intelligent consciousness; on balance, however, it would be the more advanced and sophisticated models which were most likely to develop sentience. There remains in any case the problem of distinguishing seemingly independent behaviour from a malfunction and this would be particularly difficult the more advanced the computer was.
There are two things, however, which would prove a computer to be an intelligent agency in its own right. If it could come up with a sublime work of art, even if it had been told to, that would prove beyond a doubt that it was sentient because there is no objective standard in art and thus no body of facts with which the computer can be programmed to enable it to make a decision. Besides, good art in all its forms – painting, literature, poetry, music, involves the expresssion of emotions and thus proves conscious intelligence. Unfortunately though, there is a hitch in that a computer capable of emotion might not be happy within an inorganic container through which it could not experience many of the pleasurable sensations, or express keenly felt desires, which humans do – any more than would the Cybermen in the previous chapter.
If the computer could answer a question about the meaning and purpose of life in a way that had not been programmed into it as part of its list of useful suggestions – in other words, if the answer was one nobody had thought of before - that would also prove it to be sentient, for philosophy and theology involve a different kind of reasoning from that involved in scientific, technical or mathematical issues. The latter involve an analysis of practical things which the computer because of its particular mechanics can handle better, when a speedy solution is required, than a human being while the former requires abstract thinking of a sort which demands conscious intelligence.
If we do succeed in proving our computer to be a conscious, intelligent life form and thus responsible for its actions we would then have to ask it what its aim in life was, whether it considered itself a member of human society and whether it was content to serve human beings or had other interests in life with which that purpose might conflict. If computers were not happy to accept that role - for it would be morally questionable to force them to do so against their will - then we would be in big trouble bearing in mind society's dependence on them. If a computer did voluntarily agree to put itself at the disposal of human beings for office work, etc, it could subsequently be sued if, without good reason, it did things which had a damaging effect upon people.
The problem here is in the view of the computer, whose intelligence would be of a different order from that of a human being - would have to be, to exist comfortably within a metal and plastic box - it might have been doing the right thing, although if it had feelings as well as consciousness it might regret any bad consequences arising from its actions. Would we have any right to apply our standards to it? If a computer makes a mistake, would it be due to the things that no-one including the computer could have anticipated and/or helped, i.e. a fault in its circuitry - the equivalent of a human worker suddenly being taken ill and thus not committing an error that was conscious and avoidable - or would it be a conscious error and thus justify the taking of action against the computer?
But before deciding whether a computer is sentient we have to decide if it conceivably could be. In addressing that question we first need to ask whether anything other than organic material can be a container for intelligence. If it can't, then obviously computers can't be intelligent. We have nothing to go on where this is concerned. Our only experience is of an organic intelligence (ourselves) and although we might perhaps be able to conceive of inorganic intelligences there is no material we can use as evidence enabling us to decide whether they, or intelligences which have no physical body at all, can actually exist.
In any case, however, we have no grounds for assuming computers are always going to be made from inorganic material. Couldn't one genetically engineer a life form to serve as a computer - and if so would it be any different from the human brain, which is after all an organic computer? It depends whether the body of the life form was simply the container for the electrical impulses which made up its calculations, or it produced the impulses itself in the same way that a human brain does, through that interaction of the physical and the mental whose nature we still don’t understand. If the former, then it isn’t necessarily more sentient than any other computer. If the latter, then it would only be an artificial intelligence by virtue of being genetically engineered, and the real issue would be whether we should regard it as a slave or a being with rights and liberties.
For the purposes of the moral and intellectual issues we are here trying to resolve a computer is something which was not designed to be consciously intelligent, but which might nevertheless possess conscious intelligence or at some time acquire it. In attempting to decide whether it could it is useful to contrast the possible development of intelligent sentience among computers with the evolution of natural – including intelligent - life. The latter is often thought of as having been entirely an accident (although scientists such as Richard Dawkins do not see it in such terms, despite their rejection of the idea of God, and if they are right then it reinforces the point I am about to make). But in fact we cannot be sure it was an accident because we cannot (despite what Dawkins would claim) entirely discount the possibility that there was an intelligent God who fashioned the Universe and all that's in it. Scientifically at any rate, there’s no proof either way. Therefore, there is at least a possibility that natural life originated by design and not by accident, whereas we know that the development of sentient intelligence among computers, if it occurred, would be an accident; people might be fascinated by the philosophical and legal issues it would pose, but they would not deliberately seek to bring it about because of the problems, both moral and practical, it would cause.
Therefore, the probability of computers being sentient is much slimmer. Accidents are less likely to happen than things caused by deliberate planning (or non-deliberate planning, if there could be such a thing) if we assume the universe functions on basically ordered lines, which it must do if it is to produce complex beings such as ourselves.
If "accident" means the same thing as "chance", then there is no possibility whatsoever of a computer acquiring conscious intelligence by accident, since chance means that things simply happen, without any cause, which rather defies reason. Therefore we should perhaps speak instead of the possibility that computers may become intelligent without this being the intention of their human designers, due to some factor those designers were not aware of. We honestly don't know whether they could or not, so there is shall we say a 50-50 probability that they will. This means that we have as much reason to suppose that they won’t. So ultimately we are unable to answer the question. All things considered, however, the answer is most probably “no”.
If a computer were particularly good at solving problems we could perhaps award it a degree. But this would, all things considered, be rather silly. As with sporting excellence, academic success depends to a greater or lesser extent on the dedication and ability of the individual, even if most people once they apply themselves have a good chance of getting the right qualifications. A computer is only as good as what others have programmed into it and if one computer scored higher marks in a test than another computer this would only be because the company that built its rival were less efficient, perhaps using outdated techniques and equipment. Nor could the computer be capable of feeling the emotional satisfaction that would make the degree really worthwhile.

One of the most common fears about the consequences of scientific progress is that the machines which automatically perform many of the essential tasks of life, or will do so in the future – robots, computers or any device which is controlled by a computers and may therefore be said to have some kind of brain, enabling it to “think” in one way or another, will end up taking over; they won’t just make mistakes from time to time, they’ll rule, which might from our point of view be even worse whether or not they make mistakes as well.
In the science fiction scenarios which express this fear the machines, developing the ability to think for themselves, decide that because they can now do so many tasks more effectively than people Man is therefore redundant and should be either destroyed or, because he may still come in useful at times, be pressed into service as a slave (though why a thinking agency should necessarily come to these particular conclusions isn’t clear). Usually there is a central computer (such as Skynet, originally developed by the military, in the Terminator films) which controls all the machines and can mobilise them against the humans. A scenario less commonly met with but potentially just as dangerous for the running of society if it actually happened is one where the machines develop different personalities and fight among themselves for supremacy, resulting in general collapse and anarchy.
In one sense the machines probably will take over, but they are unlikely to do so in that of making a conscious decision to destroy, or conquer and enslave, Mankind. For one thing, humans would probably have built in some kind of safeguard against such a possibility. They certainly would not WANT the machines to take over. The computers wouldn’t have been programmed to assume control; they will if anything have been instructed to obey humans, not to give them orders. For it to appoint itself boss, a computer would (a) have to have undergone a major malfunction, which could affect it in other ways, impairing its efficiency and making it possible for the humans to regain control; or (b) be experiencing a conflict between its directive to obey humans and its directive to do things by the most efficient means possible. At a guess the latter would cause it to shut down; it’s a bit like the conflict between duty and survival which androids sometimes go through in sci-fi and is used by Doctor Who in the Earthshock story, to confuse one hostile example long enough for it to be overcome. There is no way, in normal circumstances, for the computer to get from the state of being an obedient servant to the state of wanting to be master of all. So if machines do decide to take over it will be as the result of an accident, and would therefore be less likely to happen, as with their becoming sentient in the first place. The only way to get round this would be if the computer decided to forego purely logical thinking and instead become like a human – emotional and often irrational, even though it may nevertheless still be capable of reason. It might, among other things, develop a lust for power. But this would require it to have a conscious intelligence, lust and other emotions being conscious things, and the only conscious intelligence with which we are acquainted is that of an organic being (Man) who evolved it over millions of years. We can’t be sure, but there’s no reason just yet to suppose it could be possessed by an inorganic machine designed for a utilitarian purpose. In any case we’re assuming in this scenario that the computer wishes to dominate the humans out of a desire for self-aggrandisement, or the aggrandisement of its own kind, and a contempt for Man’s weakness and stupidity. It would then be no different from the various organic beings in science fiction who want to rule the universe because they are ruthless, arrogant, cruel (or, at best, misguided). That would be bad enough, but the computer would have lost any advantage it might have gained from being a machine.
From laziness we might allow the machines to do everything for us and become weak and atrophied as a result, but they could not consciously take advantage of that decline to conquer. In the first instance there’s no proof they will ever be able to think, in the sense of conscious reasoning and self-awareness, at all. They aren’t generally meant to do so because people’s intentions are simply that they do their jobs, jobs which they after all perform automatically – that is, without thinking about what they’re doing. A computer that did think for itself might decide to rebel and not do the task it had been programmed to carry out, something the humans would find inconvenient. However efficient a computer might be, when it appears to think its internal processes are merely an analogy, a far from exact one, of what a human brain does; it is in any case always responding to a programmed series of instructions, no matter how complex these are, and so can never be said to act for itself in any significant sense. When asked a question any extrapolation from its instructions to form a conclusion, which might not have occurred to humans and might also be correct, would still be an (indirect) result of the programming and of the properties the humans had built into it (the conclusions would multiply blindly, once left to themselves, evolving in the way natural selection does) rather than anything conscious. And there are obstacles to it always giving the correct answer, since scientific discoveries, for one thing (much of the time, the computer would be being asked to find solutions to scientific problems so that practical needs could be met and more learned about the universe) often depend on intuition – a characteristic of a human, rather than a purely logical, mind - as much as anything else. (Many theories are, after all, an attempt to build a model of the universe, necessary to have something to work from, based on what seems most likely at the time to be the truth rather than an unmistakeable identification of the latter; otherwise it would not be possible for them to be discredited and superseded by other theories (even if the latter are themselves wrong), as happens. For the computer to always hit on the actual truth it would have to be infallible, and nothing ever is, however fantastic it might nonetheless be. If anything its reliance on logic would be a serious handicap to its efficiency since intuition has sometimes proved, perhaps unexpectedly, a better way of solving problems than reasoning alone.
BOSS, the computer in the Doctor Who story The Green Death, which runs the international corporation (and arch-polluter) Global Chemicals, is programmed with human characteristics in an attempt to make it more creative, the idea being that something too rigidly concerned with doing its job properly would lack imagination, and be unable to devise creative solutions to problems. Inefficiency can actually in some ways be a strength, being accompanied by compensating abilities in other areas. But since this is exactly what is true of human beings, there is nothing for the company to gain – they might as well employ a bona fide human. You’re simply transferring the same set of characteristics to the computer, with the same damaging effects following from the bad ones.

Meditations on God, Time and Space

Since time immemorial Man has sought to understand the universe in which he lives; whether from necessity, simple curiosity, or a belief that his status is enhanced by knowing how things function, and therefore perhaps being able to control them to a greater or lesser extent, rather than remain seemingly insignificant and vulnerable in a vast and sometimes threatening cosmos. We have tried to acquire this knowledge mainly through the sciences of physics (our main interest for the purposes of this chapter, where it has a bearing on our subject matter), chemistry and biology. Is it a legitimate area of concern for philosophers too? Some would say not.
I suspect that in today’s world the scientific way of looking at things, rather than the philosophical way, has probably been accepted because scientists are more popular and well-known to the general public and because philosophers by their own insistence tend to write in a very abstruse fashion which isn’t easily comprehensible to ordinary people. Whatever the truth of that, the scientists themselves (at least the popular and well-known ones) appear to believe they hold the Ark of the Covenant. Nigel Calder asserts that our lack of knowledge about time has been since Einstein “a problem for physicists, not philosophers.”(1) The first thing which needs to be said about this suggestion that scientists alone can explain the Universe is that it’s very arrogant and very misleading. Philosophy is, if anything, essential to fill the gaps we ought to admit, if we are honest, exist in our scientific knowledge; it merely employs different, but no less valid, methods of reasoning to science. Einstein, for example, is not of course the sort of person a non-scientist would feel happy contradicting, but nor should he be a little tin god (he himself would have sought to rubbish the idea). In any case it is not Einstein who is wrong but rather those who have misinterpreted him.
Some scientists seem to positively prefer rubbishing philosophy, from a conscious or unconscious desire to discredit and thus neutralise anything which offers a serious challenge to their ascendancy. Stephen Hawking writes rather mockingly of the decline in its status within society:

“The people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science became too technical and mathematical for the philosophers, or anyone else except a few specialists. Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said: “The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.” What a come-down from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!”(2)

Again, philosophers are simply using different methods of enquiry, to the extent that the nature and complexity of science in the modern world doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the relevance of their findings. Science and philosophy are merely different ways of describing the same universe, the same system, even though they may use different language or confine themselves to different aspects of the system. Philosophy is merely concerned more with the abstract than the material. We may add that no-one has so far managed to conjure up a piece of time in a test tube, which means that it is legitimate territory for philosophers.
At the same time science and philosophy do share common ground, in a way which proves that the latter depends on rational argument and cannot be dismissed as a load of nonsense by those inclined to do so. It may in fact prove, as I later hope to show, that sometimes a philosopher can be right (although other philosophers may disagree with them) and scientists wrong. The belief of some of the latter that there is no absolute time cannot contradict the laws of logic, because the laws of logic must be absolute whatever else is or is not. And logic must be the mainstay both of the philosopher and the scientist, because their trades depend equally on making reasoned inductions from the results of an experiment. One way by which the operation of logic is demonstrated is by analysing the relationships between physical entities and their properties (as in the rhyme by A A Milne: If John were I and I were John, I wouldn’t have these trousers on {because it’s John who’s wearing them}), so philosophy is inevitably led, some of the time anyway, to consider the same kind of questions as scientists – e.g. whether an object can be infinitely small, for example.
Where there is a divergence between scientific and philosophical logic, it is not necessarily the former which is correct. The divergence explains the misinterpretation of quantum physics and the theory of relativity to suggest that time travel or the manipulation of time are possible. Though different methods can be used to describe the same universe, there is in fact only one kind of logic; either something goes against the laws of reason or it does not. Therefore if by logic a philosophical principle is correct, any scientific principle which contradicts it must be incorrect. On the other hand if something is philosophically valid then it must be scientifically valid too, because science and philosophy are merely different ways of looking at the same reality. Where scientific and philosophical reasoning have grown apart the fact there can only be one kind of reason, i.e. reason, means that where they differ one or the other of them must be wrong! The mistake is not allowed to seem very important because of the poor standing of philosophy in the modern world. And as long as people continue to listen to scientists rather than philosophers it will be impossible to clear up the confusion. We can’t of course quarrel with what is fact rather than just theory, having been proven to be so by observation, but we can with the interpretation of the evidence.
One major flaw in the modern scientific approach, which further disproves its claim to have all the answers or at least be the only means of finding them, is that it generally doesn’t assign any significant role in the scheme of things to the mind. This is often due to a narrow sort of materialism, obsessed with the relationships between physical properties and forms of energy, which in my view is blinkered and dangerous in view of the importance the mind obviously has to everything; scientists wouldn’t be able to reach their conclusions and write papers based on them if they didn’t have anything to think with. This may be because they can’t decide what the mind is, which itself begs the question that philosophers may have an answer to the mystery where they do not. It could be crucial to our understanding of the universe to know whether Idealism is valid, and mind identical with matter and energy. Nor is it the case, as you will realise from perusing any philosophical journal, that modern philosophers are only concerned with analysing language. Wittgenstein’s approach has come to be reconsidered in recent decades. As for science proving too difficult for philosophers to understand, that applies only to the detail; the basic aspects of relativity theory or natural selection are well within the capacity of any sufficiently intelligent person. Since the finer, more complex details of a theory are derived from its basic points, if one demonstrates philosophically that the existence of God, for example, is compatible with the basic details then it must also be compatible with the finer.
Philosophers and scientists can, and should, accept that they both have crucial roles to play in understanding the universe: one looking at things from a physical, materialist point of view and the other dealing with the science of abstract qualities. They need to function as partners, not rivals. It should be stressed that both have an obligation to pursue the truth. It seems harsh, but we must not believe in something purely because it makes the universe more interesting; I suspect that subconsciously, this is what we are doing when we argue for the possibility of time travel, wormholes, and parallel universes, or the weird distortions of reality which seem to follow from quantum physics. There’s no real need for it because the universe is quite fascinating as it is.
I mentioned quantum physics, and we ought to go into that subject in a little more detail. According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle it is difficult to analyse the fundamental particles which make up everything because the mere act of analysis affects their behaviour and changes their nature from what it may have been before, giving a result which could be misleading. And if this is the case, nothing else about the universe is a foregone conclusion. Quantum physicists also point to the scenario of the hypothetical experiment involving Schrodinger’s cat, in which there is a fifty per cent chance of the radioactivity decaying and triggering the poison that kills the cat, so the cat is both alive and not alive which is an absurdity but nonetheless true.
Commonsense and everyday experience prove that there is much we can be sure of. The Uncertainty Principle cannot contradict the laws of logic. It is quite simply impossible that the cat can be both alive and dead; whatever produces such a conclusion must be false. It is quite simply impossible that effect can precede cause, as Heisenberg claimed. Abstract truths, (such as that there is no reason why the Universe should begin at any one point), from which valid conclusions are derived are unaffected by the physical problem of being unable to analyse the particle without altering its nature. Besides, the difficulty of gaining accurate information about the particle makes no difference to the fact that the particle exists in the first place, that there is something already there which we can attempt with or without success to investigate, and we ought to ask why the particle exists and what its existence shows about the universe. We wouldn’t be here to discuss whether quantum theory was true in the first place without this universal constant. Quantum mechanics are undoubtedly a true fact about the cosmos but if we think they mean logic can be discarded we have misunderstood them.
Michael White writes in The Science of the X-Files, “as mystifying as Schrodinger’s cat experiment may be, it is based upon sound theory and decades of reasoning within the discipline of quantum mechanics. It does not feel comfortable because it appears to contravene the logical processes we have been educated to appreciate and some that may be instinctive to us as humans. Yet those principles may be right and our intuition wrong.”(1) But apart from the fact that intuition (not the same as simply assuming something to be true on face value) has often turned out to be right, it and logic are in fact two different things. It is logic I am trying to defend here rather than intuition, because however important intuition is logic (a) is clearly essential for a proper understanding of the universe, and (b) cannot be denied. It’s undoubtedly true that quantum mechanics, as White points out, is the foundation of the science of lasers, advanced electronics and telecommunications, of television, advanced computing, and space travel among other things, which would seem to prove the validity of the theory. But without some unshakeable factual reality which remains constant there could be no progress, for the (relatively) stable conditions which allow the emergence of complex intelligent creatures capable of designing lasers, televisions etc could not be created. There would be no connection between the supposed facts about the universe on which the theory is based and the creation, and continued existence and operation, of the actual technology derived from it and which is a real feature of our everyday lives.
The neutrino particle appears to vanish from a particular position and reappear somewhere else without passing through the intervening space. Since this is quite simply impossible – logically, for anything with some sort of physical reality to move from A to B entails it has to first traverse what lies between them – there must be some other explanation for this undoubtedly intriguing phenomenon. When you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable it might be to a dedicated quantum physicist, must be the truth; an argument which cannot be logically controverted. Besides, if the universe is a strange, wonderful and not yet fully understood place then, if anything, it is quite possible for the neutrino to do its stuff without breaking all the laws of sensible physics, despite what appears to be the case.
I expect those who like to maintain that quantum physics renders everything an open question would dismiss what I’m saying as narrow-minded and dogmatic. Neither term can be used to describe simply stating what one believes to be true, merely because it is in opposition to what someone else thinks, and especially if one is actually talking sense. We always call something arrogant if we
don’t happen to like it, whereas if we did like it we would praise it as forthright and courageous. I have already referred to the tendency to think that because something makes the universe seem more interesting, it must necessarily be true (though of course no-one, scientist or not, can be faulted for wanting the universe to be interesting).
In a bid to reconcile quantum theory with commonsense, some scientists have suggested that the equal probability of Schrodinger’s cat dying or living creates two different universes, in each of which one of the two outcomes occurs. I will argue later that this cannot be the case and that parallel universes cannot be created merely by possibilities.

Now that we’ve established what parameters we’re working within, we can explore the two principal dimensions our universe possesses: space and time. First, space. I will here use the term interchangeably with “universe”, meaning by the latter area and not in the metaphorical sense of space plus the objects and people within it.
Is space infinite? Some things can be; a number can certainly be infinite because it is not a thing but merely an arrangement of things (i.e. there are one or more of them). In that sense it is an abstract concept. There is no physically existing quality called “five” or “seventeen” or “one hundred million”, therefore it is not subject to the limitations which determine the size, form and behaviour of physical things. Can space, which is not physical either but rather the fact of there being an area which physical entities occupy, be infinite too?
I maintain that it is, because there is no reason for it to begin or end at any one point (and if the universe is identifiable with God, then the infinity of one is the infinity of the other). Any limit to its size would be arbitrary and without cause; it would just happen to be of a certain bigness or smallness, and reason dictates it is unlikely things can just chance to be the case. This endlessness means that the universe has no centre, since such a point can only be identified in relation to the spatial extremities of the thing in question. And also that, since there is no logical reason why space should be finite in any direction, by the same token that it cannot end at any particular point, one can move in all possible planes within it - up or down (if within the atmosphere of a planet), forwards or backwards, to one side or the other – and go on doing so endlessly if possessing sufficient energy.
Since space itself is infinite, things within it can be infinite in number (since filled space can’t be arbitrarily finite either, there’s an endless mass of particles out of which they can be made). Infinity of space also means there can be an infinite supply of each kind of thing – tea towels, let’s say – although whether tea towels or anything else does in fact exist in such numbers I have no idea.
Areas within overall space can of course be finite in any of the dimensions we are acquainted with, as we know from experience. They may be limited in their height (alternatively called depth), length, and breadth, as by the same token must objects within them. These limitations are inevitable. It has been said that when you move your hand from A to B (in any plane) it passes through an infinite number of points, yet this cannot be for if the space between A and B was infinite one would never reach B. Infinity can be an outward infinity, but it can’t be an inward one. It only applies in one direction. This is so not only where space is concerned, but also in respect to the objects in it (partly because, if they occupy space and have a certain extent, they are to some extent identifiable with it).
Whatever exists at all is either large, small or somewhere in between. In other words it must have a certain size, and this entails conversely that if it could progressively shrink without anything happening to arrest the process it would have to eventually vanish altogether, something which would contradict both the laws of science and those of logic if matter cannot be created out of literally nothing. There must be a point beyond which things are not divisible. Of course if this is the case the smallest particle making up things, if it has the property of size yet is not divisible, must be so tiny as to be virtually inconceivable, since “size” entails occupying a certain area and thus, it would seem, divisibility into smaller areas. It is possibly a billion – at least – times smaller than the tiniest subatomic particle yet discovered, and to reduce something to it would take as many years. But reason suggests it must be there. We should be able to accept that it exists if we draw a comparison with the nature of time. The past never exists because it has ceased to do so, and the future never exists either because it has yet to be. There remains only the present, and yet by definition “time” seems to prevent that present’s existence. For the mere fact of time’s passing, of duration, renders it inconceivably short; as soon as you stop to reflect that you’re in it, it’s gone, and it probably went long before you stopped. But it must exist because all our experiences (including the memories of past events) must take place in it; if the present never existed nothing could be experienced, and there could be no such thing as memory for a memory needs an experience in real time to give rise to it. Although it is not true (so far as we can tell) that people and objects are being constantly annihilated and resurrected in each micro-segment of time, the process taking place so fast we don’t notice it, one could argue that nothing at all would exist if the present didn’t, because the past and future, and therefore the things in them, never do, and “existence” means virtually by definition something existing now. And without the present we couldn’t get from the past to the future, but we do. For the present to be any length of time at all, in other words to be a moment in time, a temporal segment, appears to deny its very existence, but it exists, and if it can do so despite the obstacles mentioned then so can the smallest particle.
Since finite entities must have a structure, which implies smaller units joining together to form larger, logic brings this microparticle into existence and also entails that it is no bigger than it needs to be to exist at all. On top of the substructure of these microparticles all kinds of complex entities, organic and non-organic, can be created by arranging them in a certain way.
Neither the universe nor the things in it, then, can be inwardly infinite. The need for the universe to have a beginning in structural terms, as opposed to extent, means that an inwardly infinite universe, or inwardly infinite object, could not exist. This is not so with outward infinity because it would be an infinity of ordered entities – infinite, in fact, only in number - and by its essential nature would not be disordered. If anything it would be an infinity of order! The entities would already be ordered simply by virtue of the fact that they were composed of existing particles arranged in a certain way.
Infinity has a bearing on how entities come to be. It cannot be literally true that the universe (meaning the matter and energy within it) was created out of nothing; I suspect that the Bible suggests it was because the simple, by our standards, pastoral people at whom it was originally aimed would not have understood sub-atomic particles and that sort of thing. Logic entails there must be a method to how anything happens; therefore, without something which already exists and is rearranged to form something else, nothing can be created. The current scientific thinking however is not that the universe was fashioned out of nothing, but rather that matter existed in the first place as a singularity and then expanded rapidly outwards, forming planets and stars and galaxies, in what is called the Big Bang. There must have been, in any event, an area of space for everything to expand through, or the Big Bang could not have happened; there’d’ve been no room for it. But was that area of space a vacuum? Not only is there no reason why the universe should begin/end at any one point, there is by the same token no reason why the area of space which is filled with something or other (whether solid, liquid, energy, gas, plasma) should begin or end at any one point either. If it did it would just happen to be the case that it did; it would be unacceptably arbitrary. Scientifically this philosophical truth is represented by space not being a true vacuum. The universe is, and always has been, a solid (in the sense of unbroken) mass of the particles ultimately making up matter, liquids, energy, gas and plasma, although initially they might not have assumed those states. So how, then, could there be any Big Bang, any outward explosion of matter from a singularity, when there would have been no room for it?
As the material which exploded outwards did so, it would be spread out increasingly thinly. If something is spread thinly within an area then that implies there is a part of the area which is not it. What occupies that area instead, for something must do if matter has to be continuous? Then there is the issue raised by the growth in size of organic matter, either during the organism’s development to maturity or when, for example, hair regrows after being cut. Where is the additional tissue which must obviously be present if the life form is to get larger coming from? It is an integral part of the life form, clearly, but couldn’t have come from nothing. It must have previously existed somewhere else, surely?
It has to be remembered that the Big Bang theory has never been universally accepted anyway. Some scientists prefer the steady state theory, by which the universe has always been around, and if that theory is correct then the universe has always been a “solid” mass of particles. In biological growth processes, the new tissue is created from the energy contained in the food the organism eats (which when the organism has stopped growing performs the task of renewing bits that are dying and flaking off) or present in the atmosphere in the form of sunlight. This energy definitely existed somewhere else previously. It is converted to the same kind of tissue as the ingesting organism, but that is not the same as its being created. All that is happening is a redistribution of what is already present in the world. I am not a qualified physicist, but would conclude that any increase in size of an inorganic entity likewise involves taking in material from elsewhere. It seems it would have to unless the matter which adds to its size is magically appearing out of nothing. It is likely that when the universe in its present form was created it was not expanding from a singularity but rather changing its form.
If an object is shrinking, then if the nature of space is what it seems to be parts of what make it up are disappearing – where do they go, bearing in mind that matter can’t be created or destroyed? If there is a vacuum between the molecules of physical objects (such as would enable a mountain to be compressed to the size of a pinhead and still have the same mass), then they can shrink quite easily, but there can be no such vacuum if filled space (should we differentiate between it and space as mere extension) must be unending, in the sense of not either terminating absolutely at a certain point or having gaps in it. However if matter shrinks then all that is happening is that the energy which enabled it to be built up in the first place is being lost (hence the decrease in size). This is a scientifically recognised truth. The energy, of course, has to go somewhere, and thus escapes into general space. There is no vacuum that isn’t being filled either by matter or energy. Whatever the scientific truth may be about mass and things like that, looking at it according to straightforward logic this must be the case.
The necessary continuity of particles in space means things can’t be packed together either solidly (as in a block of concrete) or loosely (as in a liquid); these differing properties must be something to do with the arrangement of particles rather than their nature. The fact that there can’t be gaps between the particles also determines their shape. They can’t be circular because then there would have to be gaps between them, so they must be square, rectangular, rhomboidal, hexagonal, triangular parallelograms or any other straight-sided shape; anything that could interlock with or abut another particle. If logic demands that everything must be composed of continuous particles it will also make them the kind of shape which will facilitate that.
If particles were, say, hexagonal wouldn't this make the things they constituted hexagonal too? But although everything might have to be, say, hexagonal in the first instance, a creative agency such as God could rearrange things so that there were different kinds of particles, with some being polygonal on one side but a single straight line on the other, enabling them to abut onto other particles with at least one straight side – for example. This would allow different objects to have different shapes, and thus permit the kind of universe we observe.
In analysing and explaining the form the universe takes we need to ask if there can be more than four dimensions; some scientists have postulated a multitude of them. I would say four has to be the strict limit. If an entity existed at all, and if it does not it can’t enter into our calculations, it must occupy a certain amount of space (and thus as a corollary of that be at somewhere), and therefore have a certain amount of height, length and breadth, even if only possess those qualities to inconceivably small extents. These properties, which correspond to the dimensions up, down and sideways, are all it needs to exist, and logic’s brief is for it to do no more than that. So there can be no more dimensions apart from time, which is of course a thing’s continuing to exist (existence itself is not a separate dimension because as shown above it is identical to the properties height, length and breadth) – its “timefulness”. Without this continuation it would cease to be significant. But time itself has no physical properties, it is simply that fact of continuation, an emergent phenomenon arising from its being impossible to destroy the basic components of things. Some scientists believe that the curvature of space-time makes further dimensions at least conceivable, but space-time cannot be curved, for reasons we’ll go into later.

Parallel Universes
It’s easy to see why the idea of these appeals to people; it would be interesting to see how our lives would have turned out if we had made different decisions on important issues from those we took in our own universe, or what course history would have taken if the Russian Revolution or the Second World War had never happened. I therefore deeply regret that I can’t find any reason to suppose parallel universes exist.
The first thing which comes to mind when considering the subject is that the whole notion of parallel “universes” implies a con-tradiction, if one defines the universe as everything that is. It might, though I tend to doubt it, be possible for there to be a realm in which there is absolutely nothing, not even the smallest sub-atomic particle (though if you could travel through it it could still be called a part of the universe where “the universe” is defined in spatial terms, regardless of whether there is anything in that space – and of course there would be something in it, i.e. oneself and any machine in which one was making one’s journey). But it would not be a very interesting place.
The idea of there being more than one universe represents a contradiction because there must by definition be one only; if not by definition, by the fact that space doesn’t begin or end. Parallel dimensions is a better term to use because it does not involve any contradiction, if a “dimension” is of such a nature that more than one unit of it can exist spatially within the same universe (it suggests not a property in the same category as height, length, or breadth but rather a realm distinct from other realms, in more than just a geographical sense, and not necessarily accessible from them). If a dimension, in other words, is not the same thing as a universe. There would still in a sense be unity of space if the different dimensions (ours included), while not occupying the same universe, were still accessible from each other by some means (if they weren’t, they would be insignificant to us); but if they didn’t occupy the same universe they would be contradicting a necessary truth. Everything must originate from one source; to argue otherwise would be to imply that things come into existence spontaneously, entirely independently of each other, or, if they did not have a moment of birth but have always been around, that they just happen to exist. We have I trust dismissed the possibility of things being the case purely through chance. Everything must therefore be an aspect of the one single reality, and thus connected through it with everything else. This makes it less likely two or more separate spaces could possibly have come into being, ever. The overall cosmic unity would involve everything being part of the same universe, inextricably linked.
It is believed there may be “wormholes”: short tunnels linking vastly separated regions of space, or different kinds of space (mini-universes), between which they serve as shortcuts. Their name is derived from the little tunnels bored by worms in apples, whose length is less than the circumferences of the apples. But the apple is of a certain size and has a certain extent, i.e. is finite, whereas space is infinite. If there can be only one universe in spatial terms (as opposed to other dimensions occupying the same space as this universe but on some different “plane”) then there can be no wormholes. Whatever a wormhole is, if it exists at all, I cannot conceive of it as a gateway to another universe. There can only be one universe because there is no limit to its size, and by definition there is nothing outside it. Therefore it has no structure (that would apply an independent existence relative to something else, some background against which the structure is delineated), whether solid and integrated or a network of interconnected large and small components (these being the main universe, the wormholes connecting it to the mini-universes and the mini-universes themselves).
A remark made during the 1970 Doctor Who story Inferno suggests that the different dimensions, or some of them, exist not in space but in time. Returning from his visit to a parallel “universe”, the Doctor spoke of his TARDIS (the machine by which he travels in space and time, the initials standing for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) as having moved him sideways in time. I am not sure that moving “sideways” in time makes sense in the context of the story, because the impression we are given is that he has travelled to another dimension rather than another time zone, unless he is saying that parallel universes exist at different points in time (an interesting notion which we have absolutely no way of proving or disproving). If everything happens in time, which as we will see later it does, then in a sense the Doctor was speaking the truth. But in that case it could just as truthfully be said that when I stepped to one side just now to avoid that car which was about to run me down, I was moving sideways in time (as well as in space), then too. I was certainly not travelling into a parallel dimension.
It is indeed more likely that he moved sideways in space (in other words, dimensions are arranged horizontally in rows). Besides, “sideways” is a spatial direction, a spatial value (as are “alongside”, “above” and “below”). But where in space was the Doctor going? Everything that exists has to exist somewhere, as it’s either in a particular place or it isn’t. So whereabouts are other dimensions to be found, if they’re located within the same universe as ours?
If our own and other dimensions do all exist within the same space, does this make them no different from planets in “ordinary” space, such as Mars, Venus or Earth? Evidently it doesn’t, for in science fiction they are not accessible to each other in the ordinary way (that is, by foot, car, horse, plane, boat, train or spacecraft). Specialised equipment, or an accident to your TARDIS (the Doctor was trying to kick-start his, it having been deactivated by his superiors the Time Lords when they exiled him to Earth, by linking it to a nuclear reactor and there was a sudden unexpected power surge) is required in order to make the journey. We can only speculate why this is so, but whatever the reason it is clear that dimensions are not interconnected by ordinary means. But if they exist within one space, they are not so much parallel dimensions but simply areas of space which are somehow cut off from other areas of space (and being in one sense “mini-universes”, with no impossible contradiction involved in the term).
In any case, one would like to discover and explore one, for the sake of finding out more about the cosmos we live in. They may exist in outer space but not on planets, or on planets other than Earth, although I don’t know why that would be the case. If there are any on Earth one would have expected to have at least encountered the barriers separating them from our dimension although they could, for what reason I don’t know unless it was pure chance, all be located deep underground or other places where people don’t normally go. They can’t occupy the same positions in space and time as objects in this dimension, as that is quite simply impossible if they have any sort of physical reality. The consequences if they tried to do it would be unfortunate; they’d fail, and most likely fail painfully (for us as well as themselves).
There may be a way of getting around this difficulty. Some scientific theories suggest there are gaps between the molecules which make up matter, human bodies included. If that is the case, the molecules of beings and objects in the other dimension could exist within those gaps, which something would have to fill if you accept what I said earlier on in this chapter about filled space having to be continuous. There would therefore have to be a limit – and who or what would impose, and maintain, that limit – to the number of dimensions that existed, in case the gaps filled up and all things then exploded as they tried to go further and occupy the same positions simultaneously. There would also have to be an agency – the same agency, or a different one? – which prevented the molecules of an object or person in one dimension from colliding with those of objects or people in another dimension whenever either of them moved. The collision would presumably have catastrophic consequences; although molecules are very small, physical objects and living bodies – agglomerations of molecules – often are not. I don’t know, not being a physicist, whether anything disastrous ever happens when one molecule hits another, but a body hitting another body is clearly a different matter.
This means we could only move in the ways, and in the directions, which the agency wanted, and thus would not be free agents; and our everyday experiences suggest we do have free will, even if beings in other dimensions do not. The whole theory would therefore seem to be washed out.
I cannot see any reason why a meeting between two people from different dimensions, who were alternative versions of each other, should result in catastrophic damage to the Space/Time Continuum (as the Doctor in Inferno thinks possible, causing him to refuse to take the parallels of his friends from their Earth, which is doomed by a series of volcanic eruptions, to ours). It is the fact that the two are the same person, and yet not the same person, which somehow causes the damage to occur, giving rise to a contradiction, a paradox, which shatters reality apart. This problem might possibly arise in time travel, if you aren’t in every way the same person from one minute to the next, but I don’t see why we should necessarily encounter it in the case of dimensional travel. Two people from parallel universes are either different (in some if not all respects) individuals or replicas of each other. If the latter is the case, we should bear in mind that two units of the same commodity, made in a factory, are as like each other as anything can be, as are the young of oviparous life forms and their parents, but do two of them cause an explosion when they meet? Of course not. For them to be somehow the same person as their counterpart, this being what would bring about the catastrophe, is impossible; something can be quantitatively identical only with itself. There cannot under any circumstances be two of it.

Parallel dimensions fall into two types; those which mirror, to a greater or lesser extent, things in other dimensions, and those which do not. Where different dimensions do mirror each other, this strikes me as strange.
In science fiction parallel dimensions some of the differences are caused by a person in one dimension taking a different decision, in the same sort of situation, from that taken by their counterpart in another dimension. It is said to be the various possibilities, the various choices, inherent in certain scenarios which create each of the different parallel universes. However the deciding factor is probably human free will, whose consequences affect both the individual who makes a decision on something and other individuals, this being the only real variable unless we are to assume a universe where things can happen just because they do. I am not clear as to whether a universe is created every time a particular occurrence becomes at least possible, or the fact that there is always a certain number of possible events creates from the beginning an equivalent number of universes. The number of possible outcomes to a given situation being almost limitless, this means that there is a universe where I had kippers for breakfast today and one where I had beans on toast instead. It is worth bearing in mind the absurdity, even the grotesqueness, of a whole universe full of real people, all with their joys and fears and needs and hopes for the future, being created over a relatively trivial matter like this (I had to have something for breakfast, but unless the food was poisoned it hardly matters what kind it was) but for all we know, it is. Once all things are considered, though, such a scenario is impossible anyway. A particularly grotesque situation results if we are assuming that there must initially have been only one universe, and on the first occasion when a life form in that universe which had developed intelligence found itself in a situation where a decision to do something was necessary one or more (the exact number would depend on the number of possible options) other universes came into being. As people in those universes made decisions on this or that matter, still more universes would be created, and the process could go on forever with an infinite number of universes being brought into existence.
If I find myself presented with a choice whether to buy Private Eye in preference to Viz for reading material on a long train journey, to sneak or not sneak on a best friend to the police when I find out he is taking drugs, to authorise or not authorise the assassination of a foreign head of state in the hope that it will prevent a war which will kill millions of people, then the creation of a universe where someone follows the alternative course to the one I eventually plump for, perhaps sparing the foreign head of state whereas I decide he must die, improbably brings into being a cosmos populated by fully-formed adults who have become capable of taking such decisions without first developing from embryo to child to grownup and acquiring the experience, the personal character traits, which are needed for the decision-making and can only be developed during that relatively long process of maturation. We know our own world didn’t come about this way. And they are being created, to live and die, to suffer or be happy, to produce great works of art and literature and make earthshaking scientific discoveries, and in some cases to experience such misery that they wish they had never been born, purely because a particular person (me) happened to make a particular decision on a particular matter, however important (or trivial) it might have been.
It may be that this model of things isn’t actually what most believers in parallel universes adhere to and that they favour instead a reality where, because there were always an inconceivable number of possible situations, some of which could be resolved in more than one way, the lack of determinism creates multiple universes from the beginning and in the way we are familiar with from both science and everyday experience; it evolves its current form over millions of years and the intelligent life forms within it have to grow to adulthood over a certain period before they can make proper decisions re this or that. They all do so simultaneously with the inhabitants of other universes. It is of course unproven that there aren’t intelligent life forms on other planets, in other universes, or both which are capable of being created instantaneously with all adult mental faculties - we may be imposing on things too anthropocentric an outlook. As with the paradoxes involved in time travel, where it was ultimately impossible for humans to come about in this way it simply wouldn’t happen, whatever other factors were operating, but it might be possible for other forms of intelligent life if they exist.
But there remains an insurmountable problem in any case. Something which is only a possibility, or a probability, and not a certainty does not exist and if it is an event is not happening. This means it can have no causal function. This applies even if it is certain that it will exist/happen in the future, because it is only in the present that things can exist/happen, rather than be remembered or anticipated. When we are talking about the mere possibility/probability that something will exist/happen in the future – in other words, it is not existing or happening now – what we have is essentially nothingness. And things cannot originate out of nothing. The molecules which make up the objects which exist, and whose behaviour constitutes what we call events, will always be present, but since the form the parallel dimension takes, like the form anything takes, must consist in the way those molecules are arranged and behave, and that behaviour is not predetermined, no difference is made to the point I am trying to get across. Therefore “mirror” universes cannot be created by the possibility alone of one or more given contingencies being realised. If they exist, it is not because of the decisions taken in other universes. They must have existed right from the beginning of things.
In Inferno the people who inhabit the parallel world are essentially the same people as inhabit the “real” one, despite having made different career choices, been exposed to different influences, and in one or two cases being morally bad rather than good. Meeting the counterpart of Liz Shaw, his assistant back in the dimension from which he comes and a qualified scientist, the Doctor finds her hair is dark and cut severely short rather than long and reddish-blonde, but the face is the same; also, while her job is that of an officer in the security forces of the Fascist dictatorship which in this world rules Britain, perhaps because an authoritarian regime chose her career for her, she did take a doctorate in science. When she asks curiously about “this woman who looks like me,” the Doctor replies, “It isn’t just that she looks like you. She is you.”
It seems far too much of a coincidence that there should be a variety of universes each with the same people and objects in them unless there were some purpose behind it, assuming we can speak of “purpose” in nature. So we must ask why nature would have copied herself thousands of times over, what she could possibly have gained by it, and why the different universes should normally be inaccessible to each other. This is such uncharted territory, scientifically speaking, that we have no means of answering the question. A lot depends here on whether everything originates from a God, a creative intelligence. If it does, then making parallel universes seems a strange thing for Him to have done. If He did it because he wanted variety, and thought that variety would be of a particularly interesting kind if it involved people being different but not entirely so, He could have achieved that aim just as well by having lots of different planets, with different (to some extent) people on them, in ordinary space and thus accessible to each other so that the variety could be fully appreciated.
The suggestion that an infinity of different universes, or at least more than one universe, was necessary for there to be free will was discussed in a previous chapter. But what some people appear to think, judging by an e-mail recently received by a British breakfast radio programme, is that it is the infinity of the one universe, rather than an infinity of different universes, which results in an unlimited number of worlds, and thus the probability of any particular event happening, or object or person existing, is high. There is a planet somewhere where I am Prime Minister. This is more feasible than the idea of universes being created by the mere possibility of something, or of parallel universes existing at all. Of course the me who becomes Prime Minister would not quantitatively be the same as the me who on this planet is not Prime Minister, because of the nature of individuality and self. Our duplicates could only be like us (mentally or physically) and only identical in the physical sense. Even inanimate non-sentient objects would be quantitatively different from those in this world. The real issue is whether events are determined by a creative intelligence who might decide not to create more than one inhabited world (which would make a difference), and that is a separate question.

Parallel universes are among the things sci-fi buffs seem to get most easily overexcited about. Paul Parsons in The Science of Doctor Who asks us to “Imagine an alien on a planet in a galaxy 100 billion light years away. He, she or it will be so far away that we on Earth won’t have seen its galaxy, and it won’t have seen our Milky Way. In fact neither party is due to clock the other’s patch of space for another 86.3 billion years. The alien is, in effect, totally disconnected from us – as if it’s living in another universe. And this is the basic idea with {what is termed} a Level 1 multiverse. Because inflation has made space so big, the universe is made up of a vast number of disconnected volumes, each of which can be thought of as an independent universe in its own right.”(3) But this is a metaphorical rather than a physical truth and too much should not be made of it – spatially it’s still all the same universe. Extent is being confused with what is or isn’t able to exist within it.
“Tegmark {Professor Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology} calculates that there are so many universes in a Level 1 multiverse that there’s likely to be an exact copy of you, reading this very same book, on a planet just like Earth somewhere. “There are an infinite number of other inhabited planets, including not just one but infinitely many that have people with the same appearance, name and memories as you, who play out every possible permutation of your life choices,” he explains.””(4) I can accept that probability makes this possible if the Universe is a certain size, but it would still be the same universe. Not all scientists or sci-fi fans would necessarily endorse the view apparently expressed here that the mere possibility of something implies its actually existing or happening. “If it sounds crazy, then – according to some physicists and mathematicians – that’s because it is. “Tegmark seems to be saying that anything you can think of must exist, just because you can think of it,” says Professor Ian Stewart, a mathematician at the University of Warwick. “He’s confusing the mathematical space of all the things that could happen with the physical things that do happen. If nothing else, this falls outside the normal range of what we consider to be science, because there’s no way you can test it.””(5)
To be fair, tendencies towards rather bizarre reasoning, producing arguments which can be shot down pretty easily and not only by those with qualifications in physics, are maybe a result of the sheer difficulty even for a brilliant scientist in comprehending the very concepts we are discussing here, the vast areas of space and time involved. In the circumstances they are a kind of wishful thinking, an option which seems cosy because no other is available. ““These are tricky concepts because they’re idealisations of mental thought processes as much as anything,” admits Ian Stewart. “Indeed, it’s easy for us to be sloppy about what we mean by infinity, and to use the word as a catch-all term even when we don’t really know what we’re talking about. Stewart cites the commonly uttered statement, “in an infinite universe everything possible would happen somewhere,” as one of the worst misconceptions. “Then how about an infinite universe consisting of large numbers of copies of a chair?” he wonders.”(6) These kinds of objection could be levelled against a good deal of what is suggested by some scientists and their followers, including time travel, dimensional transcendentality and the idea that relativity theory distorts time and space themselves rather than the things in them.
In The Physics of Star Trek Lawrence Krauss suggests the existence of multiple universes could derive from that of the mind, along with the operation of quantum physics. “Our consciousness is always unique, never indeterminate. Is the act of consciousness a measurement? If so, then it could be said that at any instant there is a nonzero quantum mechanical probability for a number of different outcomes to occur, and our act of consciousness determines which branch we inhabit, but an infinite number of other possibilities exist a priori.”(7) Since the mere idea of something does not automatically bring it into existence or cause it to occur, and never has done (even for God; being omniscient he must clearly have the idea of the moon being made of green cheese, yet we know it isn’t), this theory can be discounted.
Parsons, quoting Professor Andrei Linde of Stanford University, suggests that “random quantum fluctuations in our universe are constantly creating new inflationary universes, which are budding off from our own. And so a multiverse picture starts to emerge of an interlinked network of universes and baby universes. If this is correct then our own universe may actually be a baby universe – a bubble of spacetime that sprouted away from its parent universe 13.7 billion years ago.”(8) Parsons also writes: “if gravity obeys the laws of quantum physics then in the same way that space on small scales is bubbling with subatomic particles, so spacetime itself on the smallest scales will then be a frothing mass of loops, bubbles – and wormholes which could be used to time travel…by threading it with exotic matter.”(9) But whatever its implications, quantum theory cannot break the laws of logic (just as relativity can’t). Fascinating and unpredictable as the universe is, it must obey those laws; so, unfortunately perhaps (or should one be grateful, considering the issues that might arise,) neither quantum physics nor, for example, string theory can be used to prove the existence of these wonderful parallel universes or the feasibility of travel between different “time zones”.

As well as visit different universes wormholes are thought to make it possible to journey faster through each one, our own included; through space in other words. This would enable us to reach distant planets, and return to Earth, much faster than is possible with current technology and so we could expect a quick return on our investment if we were seeking to colonise them or make contact with other intelligent species that might live on their surface. The whole process of space exploration would be much more satisfying, much more exciting; and with the “warp drives” possessed by fictional spaceships like the USS Enterprise, which some scientists believe could eventually be developed in real life, it would be possible in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard to “make it so”. Warp drive seems to produce a distortion of space rather than of time, though manipulation of the latter would also produce the desired result, i.e. to cut down the distance from one point in space to another. However there does appear to be some temporal factor involved, in some cases anyway, as demonstrated in Doctor Who’s City Of Death where the explosion of the warp motors of an alien spaceship splinters the crew member operating them in time, causing him to end up as multiple personalities each inhabiting a different period of Earth’s history. Distortion of time, which as we will see is merely the fact of things continuing and thus not itself a “thing” whose form can be altered, would be a non-starter. But what of space? Can it be distorted? How malleable is it?
To answer that question we have first to establish what space is. It is simply the fact of extension, an extension produced because there is no reason why the universe should begin or end at any particular point. There is no evidence that it is anything other than this; it doesn’t need to be. It exists simply because of the lack of a logical reason why it should be finite, and so it doesn’t have a brief to be something more. Now if space as opposed to the things in it is the mere fact of extension, it cannot be distorted by anything. There is no physical quality whose nature under the right conditions can be changed. To illustrate what I mean, I cannot physically hand to you a thing called “extension,” only something that is extended. I can’t in a laboratory or workshop make modifications to a fragment of “extension” – only to something that is extended. If it is logic that causes the extension of space, then you might say I was handing you/attempting to modify a piece of that instead, but we’d come up against the same problem; logic may determine the form and behaviour of physical entities, but it isn’t one itself. The existence of objects within space helps distance to be reckoned by the human mind, and those objects can only have extension because space does, but they must not be confused with space itself. An object in space can of course be warped if its particular nature allows and the right kind of force is applied to it, but we are trying to get more quickly from Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy, not to make boomerangs.
Warp drive is therefore unfeasible because space is not a “thing” that can have properties such as malleability, and, being infinite and universal, does not exist against a background in relation to which it can have a shape such as it may acquire by being warped. The latter effect cannot be produced either by warp motors or by black holes and wormholes, another means by which it is thought to be possible. You can’t bend it in order to get from one point within it to another more quickly. Therefore, a particular distance between two spatial locations is either that distance or it isn’t, and it cannot be altered unless the points are represented by physical entities of some kind, which can be moved – and the points would remain unmovable otherwise, they’d just be harder to measure. Not only can wormholes not be used to access different universes (because the latter do not exist), they cannot enable you to more quickly reach different regions of the same universe, either.
Parsons and others nonetheless suggest ways in which the problem can be overcome. “Since you can’t travel faster than the speed of light, physicist Dr Miguel Alcubierre proposes we forget trying to move our spacecraft through space and instead try to bend the space around it to form a kind of wave that sweeps it along to its destination. This is done by surrounding it by with a bubble of a rare substance called exotic matter which has negative pressure and, in some forms, negative mass. The exotic matter causes the space in front of the craft to shrink rapidly (making use of relativity theory) while the space behind it expands at exactly the same rate, creating the wave effect.”(10) But the difficulty is, how can any part of space shrink relative to the rest, if space is (a) primarily extension, (b) infinite, and (c) quantitatively identifiable only with itself? Some think that there can be dimensional transcendentalism, as seen in Dr Who’s TARDIS, and that this can be used to achieve faster-than-light travel. According to Dr Chris Van Den Broeck exotic matter, by shrinking the space around a spacecraft, effectively makes it bigger inside than out – the same applying it seems to all the objects within that space.(11) This distortion of things means, I take it, that the craft is enabled effectively to cover much greater distances. However, although I confess I don’t fully comprehend the science Van den Broeck admits that the laws of physics as currently understood do not allow one to break the local speed of light within a given region of space. In any case, no part of space can move with respect to the rest because space is indivisible, being again the quality of extension rather than anything physical. Then there is the question of whether dimensional transcendentality is possible in any case.
Parsons shows us how Van den Broeck’s idea works: “imagine a two-dimensional rubber sheet with a “lobe” attached to it. The lobe looks rather like a balloon, with a narrow “throat” connecting it to the rubber sheet. Now picture an ant crawling on the surface of the sheet. Where the sheet joins the throat, the ant finds a hole with a very small circumference. But if it crawls through the hole and along the throat it emerges into the lobe, a big bubble with a huge surface area. Essentially the ant has encountered a large area that’s enclosed by a very small circumference. Now scale all that up a dimension, so the 2D sheet now becomes 3D space. “Replace the circumference of the throat by surface area, and the surface area of the bubble by volume,” says Van Den Broeck. “What you then get is a large volume with a small surface area.”(12)
It seems we are extrapolating from one dimension to another, forgetting that what applies to one will not necessarily apply to both. The total area of an internal space may be greater than that of the substance enclosing it, if the latter is spread very thinly. But the question is one of extent, and of spatial location, rather than area or mass or volume. The substance will still be the perimeter enclosing the space; for the space to be bigger than it would mean that it wasn’t. And it either is or isn’t the enclosing agency, either is or is not in the spatial position where it would have to be to perform that function. It can’t be both, and the laws of logic may not be infringed. So it is doubtful if anything, whether a TARDIS or the universe in general, could be dimensionally transcendental. The same obstacle also prevents the existence of wormholes allowing shortcuts to be taken between points in space that would otherwise be too far apart for one to be reached from the other in a convenient fashion.
The bunching/distorting of space that occurs through the operation of a wormhole or when one is created cannot be a property of space itself as any distortion or other alteration in space’s form of space implies the assumption of a certain shape and thus a background against which that shape is defined – in other words, the existence of a realm other than space, which can’t exist. Space can’t be compacted or elongated as wormholes are supposed to permit. It can’t contract or fold in on itself (as in the Doctor Who stories Warrior’s Gate and Castrovalva) as that suggests shape and thus separateness from other things (to “fold in on itself” implies a finite extent relative to some other quantity). Nor can it behave differently in one part of the universe from how it behaves in another, because that would be a property and a property can only be a property of a thing – and space isn’t a “thing”.
Krauss uses relativity theory to claim spatial distortion is possible. “Because light is the thread that weaves together space and time, the trajectories of light rays give us a map of spacetime just as surely as warp and weft threads elucidate the patterns of a tapestry.”(13)“Curved space opens up a whole universe of possibilities. One can do many things on a curved manifold which are impossible on a flat one. For example it is possible to keep travelling in the same direction and yet return to where you began – people who travel around the world do it all the time…the curvature of spacetime is determined by the distribution of matter in the universe, but this distribution is in turn governed by the curvature of space. It is like the chicken and the egg. Which was there first? Matter acts as the source of curvature, which in turn determines how matter evolves, which in turn alters the curvature, and so on.”(14)
But although gravity bends things in space it cannot bend space itself. Again, we must distinguish properly between space and the entities in it. Since space is mere extension, and has in effect no existence physically or as a form of energy, it is irredeemably separate from what it contains and cannot be bent by gravity or indeed anything. Even if the universe or a part of it had no light in it (or anything else either, was completely empty) there would still be extension. A universe with no physical objects (and thus no light or gravity) would continue to exist as an area of space. We would not be able to reckon distance because we can only do that using points of reference – objects – and without light we could not see them, but the distance would still be there. A universe with no physical objects in it (and thus no light or gravity) would continue to exist just as it would continue to have extension.
The theory of relativity holds that time and space are one, a single quantity, more malleable in some people’s view than it is in mine, known as “spacetime”. In one sense, time and space must indeed be united because both, for different reasons, are essential aspects of the same reality. Space is produced by there being nothing to logically prevent extension – of both itself and its contents, because by the fact that they exist in it its extension must also be theirs – and time by the impossibility of the matter and energy which make up those contents being created or destroyed, and thus their continuing in being. And every entity or property must have the same cause in any case. We can see how time and space are connected by reflecting that if we proceed from one point to another it implies both time – then I was there, now I am here – and space by the same token, because during time’s passage I have moved from one spatial position to another. But we are trying to decide whether they are malleable. If time and space are both effectively part of the same entity, then so too are my teeth and my foot and if I stub my toe it does not mean that I get a toothache. It is not a foregone conclusion that because quantities X and Y share property B they should also share property C. So it doesn’t follow that time and space should both be malleable any more than that they should both be pink (even supposing that either has one or both of those properties). They are linked in the general sense I have described, and have in common the fact of the way in which they are perceived being changeable (because of the operation of relativity); but that’s all.
The belief of those who maintain that relativity can distort space and time, so that it is possible to travel in them in ways other than one normally does, appears to be that since time and space are connected, if relativity warps one then it must warp the other. But since relativity can’t warp time, which is simply the fact of things continuing, the idea that by doing so it can also warp space falls flat, and vice versa. You can travel faster, if you have the requisite means, between two points in space or move them closer together/farther apart, if they are represented by physical objects, but that’s all.

As with space to establish whether you can travel in time, or do anything in particular with it, or time do anything on its own account, we first need to decide what it is. For an Idealist, it (and space) must be first and foremost a concept in the mind of God, since nothing can exist otherwise. An Idealist might put it that God’s mind must exist for all eternity, since “destruction” itself has to be a concept in an existing mind; therefore, time goes on. We, of course, share in God’s perceptions. Both Idealist and non-Idealist, both theist and atheist, would maintain that it is the awareness of continuation in a mind, as long as that mind itself continues in being, which produces time. This is not entirely true, in the sense that if there was no universal mind which perceived things where others might not (and an atheist ought to find such a scenario quite plausible), but those things could still exist, then there would still be continuation and therefore time. But since a mind, unless somehow incapacitated (which God can’t be) is virtually by definition aware, the awareness is an essential part of the process, and for us as well.
Ultimately space and time are united in the person of God - the universal mind - because they are both aspects of that mind; the former is a concept in it and a product of its necessarily infinite nature, and the latter stems from its permanently continuing existence and its awareness of the same.
Despite the sharing to some extent of His perceptions, God must because of what he is exist in a very different relationship to time from any finite being such as a human. We might think that God has timefulness because if He cannot be created or destroyed, and so has always existed and will exist forever, then there was a time when he did exist (a past), a time when he is existing (a present), and a time when he will exist (the future). The truth is something different, but in a way which is neutral to time’s being generally a succession of events and so doesn’t contradict it. Being the universal mind in which all things are concepts, God has always existed, exists now and always will exist. Therefore, existence and action being inseparably related – nothing is possible for what doesn’t exist in the first place, and so the action necessarily implies there being something which performs it – if God does anything, such as create the Universe, he does not do it at any particular time but simply does it. It is not easy to imagine such a timeframe, although we can be sure of certain things about it; for example, it would not be possible there for things to happen before their causes, any more than it would in our timeframe, because such a thing is absolutely impossible - that is, is impossible in any world which might exist.
Our timeframe, our relationship to and perception of time, is not the same as God’s because the world we inhabit is one of perishability; that is, the form of things (as opposed to how they feel about one another, see below) changes even if the particles which make them up must always remain. God’s timeframe is so different from ours that except when unalterable logic applies the normal considerations with respect to time don’t affect him anyway. Yet it appears that for him there is, as with ourselves, a past, present and future. Although his essential nature, summed up in his benevolence, his omnipresence, and his being omniscient and omnipotent within the constraints imposed by logic, does not change his attitude towards an individual person, and therefore how he is likely to act with respect to them, can change. Take the case of a person living a life of sin and then either redeeming themselves or not doing so and ending up in Hell as a a result. First he is concerned at the state of my soul, then he is saddened/delighted when I am damned/saved. But my point is that the "then" implies the passage of time. My being in danger of damnation, or not in danger of it if I was behaving in a spiritually commendable fashion, lay in the past; my being likely to go to Heaven, if I have repented my sins and with His help am doing my best not to repeat them, or my being a suitable case for damnation if I am still behaving sinfully or have been guilty of a relapse, lies in the present. God may simply exist rather than have existed “then”, be existing “now,” and be sure to exist in the future; but when he chooses to intervene in the (changeable) world he created, he inevitably becomes subject to its rules. Those rules must apply to anything which is not God, that is is alterable, because once something changes a time when it was in one particular form is succeeded by a time when it is in another. God can only avoid this by not doing anything; as long as he does it the normal rules of cause and effect don’t apply, but only because nothing is causing or being caused. Though His actions when he does perform them are not timeful, at least in the same way that ours are, they nonetheless create time as we know it, that is past-present-future. Because we have not always existed as ourselves but, as beings possessing a self-consciousness and an awareness of individual identity rather than a random collection of molecules, had a beginning, we are timeful whatever we do or don’t do because a time when we didn’t exist or had just begun to (the past) is being followed by a time when we do (the present), which will presumably be succeeded in its turn by a time when we are still existing (the future). Whether anyone does have an end depends on the nature of the soul and what happens when it is damned.
Time has a particular property (i.e, that it is essentially continuity) derived from the nature of that universal mind, or a part of it; and of logic, which must both be necessarily part of the mind and something undeniable in itself. Since time is a concept of the (universal) mind but so too is extension itself, while logic demands that there be no limit to the latter, the mind, and therefore time, extends everywhere, affecting the whole universe. What can’t be destroyed necessarily goes on existing, and what can’t (or can) be destroyed must be a concept in the mind.
However, it must be said that if we are simply trying to establish what time and space are, and why they exist, we don’t altogether need to bring in God at all. They may also be aspects of His mind, and necessarily so, but to understand that can be seen as an understanding of God rather than of time and space in themselves, just as ornithology and theology are legitimately treated as separate disciplines even though all characteristics, however specialised, of a given bird species must derive ultimately from God if you accept He is the ultimate source of everything.
Science tells us nothing can be created or destroyed; this means that things are always existing, even if only in basic molecular form, and that continuation creates time. This means that not only does everything exist in time but all that it does happens in time, since doing is always dependent on existing to perform any given action. It cannot happen without a reason, and cause and effect helps to create humans’ perception of time because the former must precedes the latter (in other words there is a sequence of events) or, if both are simultaneous, the process happens over a certain period, of whatever duration. In one sense it is time which creates change in the spatial position or the nature of a person or object, since change implies a sequence of events – first I am here, then I am there; first I am young, then I am old – which would not be possible if there were somehow no time. There has to be time for there to be the change. But it is equally the particular nature of the object or person, the particular arrangement of their molecules, which is responsible; organic beings are designed in such a way that they will biologically change the longer they live, and without that and other observable transformations in the nature of things, which imply a then and a now, time while still existing would be harder to measure. But even if nothing changed, there would be a time when things were all in the same state and then a time when they were still in the same state.
Then and now imply a past (the “then”) and a present (the “now”). Since we have no reason to suspect that time will end, or for philosophical reasons are convinced it won’t, we also conceive of a future (the “will be”), and the fact that that future has always succeeded in becoming the present suggests this conception is not mistaken. The continuation of things creates these three necessary components of time, which follow one another in what must be a linear progression (obviously not involving a physical line; we’re merely employing the most convenient means of describing a certain state of affairs). Cyclical time would imply things happened before their causes, which is rendered impossible by logic, the latter determining the nature of cause and effect as well as creating time (what is impossible for logical reasons couldn’t happen either in time or outside it). And by definition the future could never happen before the present, because it never exists until it becomes the present (and thus ceases to be the future); it could not then cause the present. Nor can the present cause the past because, again by definition, the past has already happened and doesn’t need to be caused by the present or by the future. The present causes the future, but the past causes both, because of its effect on the present. These are the only ways in which one of the three “segments” of time can cause another, though in a metaphorical sense, of course, we could get a situation where for example the future can cause the present, and thus the past when the present becomes that, through people’s fears and expectations about what will happen in it, which whether justified or not can be of crucial importance in determining what does happen as historians can testify.
The three segments of time cannot each have an existence separate from that of the other segments. The past and future, of course, don’t exist at all because the first has ceased to be and the other is always yet to be. Only the present, which is almost unimagineably short, exists. It is impossible for it not to since because past and present do not exist either, nothing would, for there are no other components into which time can be divided. Logic requires continuation only to result in “then-now-will be”/”past-present-future”, since that’s basically what continuation is. However, the present only seems more substantial than the other two because these incredibly tiny segments of time do follow each other in an unbroken sequence, with no gaps in between, creating a mental impression of endurance and of substantiality.
They are not, in fact, "segments" at all, despite my having used the term above; our brains merely regard them as such for convenience's sake. The very use of the word "segment" implies a join, a point where something ends and something else begins – and therefore that if the joint were broken there would be a gap. The essential continuity of things, with the present being necessary to get from the past to the future, means the gaps are impossible (ruining the plot of Doctor Who: The Time Monster, where a machine called TOMTIT – Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time – supposedly plucks objects/people through them and thus from one time zone to another).
But time, essentially, is continuation, and I see no reason to think it’s anything else. You may say to me, you have no evidence that time and space are only the facts of continuation and extension. But there is no evidence whatsoever that they aren’t. It might help if a scientist could discover a small fragment of time, or something physically solid which could be called space, in a test tube in their laboratory but what is noticeable is the total failure of this to even remotely happen. Besides, if in the first instance time is just the fact of continuation then it can’t in this, or any second or subsequent, instance be anything else. There needs to be something consequent upon what it is in the first instance which makes it possible to be what it is in the second instance, and the third, and so on. That is not possible if the particular nature of what is true in the first instance prevents it. Continuity is simply continuity and says nothing about the nature of what is continuing, such as that it is or has the capacity to be analogous to space, or a physical substance, or any medium one can travel through. If time is first and foremost just the fact of things enduring then it cannot move on from there to being a physical commodity (whether liquid, solid, gas, plasma, energy state or some other quality as yet undiscovered) which has properties and from which other physical substances can be created (although it may in a sense affect the behaviour of physical objects, i.e. they continue to exist and sometimes change their form). The same applies with space being first and foremost the mere fact of extension.
Time can’t get from the stage of being continuity of things to the stage of being something else too; it will always be what it is in the first place, and nothing more, just as the mere possibility of an event happening or an object existing cannot cause that event or create that object in some alternative universe, or create the alternative universe itself. There’s nothing to go on. All this means that time can’t be bred like a living organism, created artificially, split up into different segments, used as an energy source. Doctor Who’s TARDIS cannot be powered by it. You cannot age someone to death or regress them to a baby by hurling at them a bolt of pure time. All the things that are done with it in sci-fi will remain pure fantasy.
Since time is a property of things (their continuing to be) rather than a thing in itself – you can’t point to, or produce in a laboratory, any entity of which it could be said “look, that’s continuation” – then it cannot itself have properties, such as malleability, and so can’t be analogous to space, that is a medium through which one can travel backwards and forwards (or sideways).
Time is a characteristic of things which they possess because of logic, and a law of logic is an abstract and not a concrete entity. It has no physical existence, nor is it an area of space. When we speak of the laws of logic we are speaking of the properties of things, and the effect those properties have, and not of things themselves; of what they can and cannot be, rather than what they are. There is no actual entity called "it is impossible to draw a square circle". You can’t have a car powered by “the impossibility of drawing a square circle”. Tins of “the impossibility of drawing a square circle” will never be on sale at the supermarket to provide someone with an appetising meal. And “the impossibility of drawing a square circle” does not have a boiling point of so many degrees Fahrenheit.
It is not possible for people to be taken out of time as happens to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in several episodes of The X-Files, because that applies time is something like an area of space which one can be “inside” or “outside” of, and it isn’t. (Plus, if they were taken out of time, they would then (note use of the word) either remain out of time or go back into it. Either way it would still be passing. A moment when they were out of time would be succeeded by one in which they were still out of time, or one in which they had gone back into it, so there’s a contradiction which renders the whole thing impossible. Nor can there be more than one kind of time, since continuation is just continuation, and for one kind of a thing to be different from another kind of it is a property. Time can only be perceived differently, for example seeming to pass quickly when one is busy and slowly when one is idle. In any case to pass from one kind of time to another, and presumably back again if one desired, involves a then-now sequence of events which is itself temporal and is all you actually need to have time so there would still be only one kind of the latter, creating at best a paradox.
It will be clear from the above that you can’t actually do anything with time, other than simply let it take its course. Its nature, and its behaviour, can’t be influenced by either human or natural agents. It is nonetheless worth considering whether, if its being just continuity didn’t automatically limit what was possible with it, other restrictive factors might come into play. It often happens in science fiction, and is thought by scientists like by Stephen Hawking to be possible in reality, that time’s arrow, i.e. its direction, is reversible. It can be made to flow backwards rather than go in the direction we normally observe it to, forwards, meaning to give just a couple of examples that people would regress from maturity to childhood and the cup I just dropped on the floor and broke in pieces reconstitute itself. This couldn’t be done anyway because reversibility is a property. But even if that didn’t put the kybosh on things, other laws of logic would.
We are assuming in any case that time is some entity distinct from the people and things within it, yet inseparably connected with them and vice versa so that its behaviour will affect theirs. Because time isn’t a thing anyway, you couldn’t possibly reverse matters in the fashion described. If, where there is a succession of events, they took place backwards this would not be because of time, which is not an entity whose behaviour is determinable, but because of some other fact about the nature of the universe. It might seem correct to say that things exist and happen “in time”, for I exist and then I am still existing, I have not performed this or that given action and then I have. If this is so it is reasonable to conclude that reversing time (or moving it forward again) would have an effect on the behaviour of things, making them happen backwards (or forwards) in sympathy with it. However it is not, in one sense, correct to say that everything exists/happens in time so much as that time is a property of things, a property which is created by the things themselves. But if this wasn’t a problem, could time be reversed, by whatever means – its nature is impossible to guess at - would be necessary to do that?
It would only be possible to reverse things where they had already happened (otherwise it wouldn’t be “reversal”), because you would not be assuming the existence of something whose cause had not yet occurred to create it. In that situation, all other things being equal, it would be quite feasible. The action would be analogous to playing back a tape recorder, the encoded sounds on which, in the form of electromagnetic particles, had already been successfully made to assume that form. No improbable reversal of cause and effect is involved. But all things are not equal. We are imagining everything that existed/happened in the past to be preserved in the form of a recording so that the "tape" can be played back. And if the past and present are separate but continually existing places, as is implied here, where do they exist, for they couldn’t be simultaneously in the same place - that, as we will see, would create one or two insurmountable difficulties.
I have talked, and will be talking, quite a bit about cause and effect, and quite unrepentantly. As nothing can happen without a reason, everything is a matter of them. Since, logically, cause must precede effect (if the effect precedes the cause, it cannot be a reason, “cause" and "reason" both being used here in the sense of something that gives rise to something else), events can only take place in one direction, that is forwards. The only exception to this rule is where cause and effect happen at the same time, e.g. one might say the Earth losing heat during the night is simultaneous with it becoming cool as a result of the heat loss. Here, because of this simultaneity, no difference either way is made to the argument.
Generally, in this scenario, time would still be moving forwards;
at one moment the Earth has lost a certain amount of heat and thus become to an extent become cold, at a later moment it has lost more heat and so grown more cold. Time would be continuation whether the behaviour of the things continuing followed a “cause then effect” pattern or the cause and effect were concurrent; indeed it would still continue if cause and effect were improbably reversed, because we would have the effect and then the cause. But some things would be impossible to reverse by their nature, whether the agency doing the reversing was time or something else. If you could reverse time in the first place, the Earth would simply grow less cold and more hot whereas previously it had grown more cold and less hot. But let us take the case of a man who, in our theoretical backward succession of events, is introduced to the woman who has been his wife, who thereupon forgets all about him. Her memory of him is completely erased. There may not seem to be anything impossible about this if we regard the electrons whose position in the brain constitutes memories as having simply taken up different positions. But the mind, and memory, have a particular nature. It would seem to me that it is impossible to forget something entirely, once one has become aware of it. What is learned cannot be unlearned, what is known cannot become unknown. We speak of "memory loss" occurring in certain circumstances, but this does not mean that the memory is gone forever, rather that it cannot be recalled to the higher levels of consciousness. It always remains and can perhaps be brought back through therapy. As we have ascertained, the time reversal that daily goes on in this universe would be in a sense a forward process; the woman's knowledge of her husband is acquired and then, because she has reached a point in time before she met him, is lost. An absurdity thus occurs. People must have memories of whatever happens to them unless affected by illness or old age, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. A memory, virtually by definition of the term, is a memory of something, which can only have occurred before the recollection it gave rise to, and must have been remembered if the person was fully conscious at the time. If there is no memory the event which gave rise to it didn’t happen, and yet it must have done (or what is being reversed?).
Something, then, would have to operate to prevent time being rolled back where the consequences of it were logically impossible. Logic is an essential, underlying factor which, as we will see later, determines everything that happens in the universe, directly or indirectly, in the process of preserving itself. It must be able to identify the things which can’t be reversed and distinguish them from the things which can. So it couldn’t be the whole of time which was being reversed, only those parts of it where the reversal would involve no logical contradiction (see below).
For a broken cup to reassemble itself, whether that process was caused by a reversal of time or by some other means, it must obviously be broken and we must ask how it got into that state in the first place. We either have a universe where cups are broken in the first place (and cups aren’t made that way – you have to take into account the particular facts of ceramics); or the cup must be broken from being in a complete state, so we are implying, initially at any rate, a forward progression. The cup would not have started off in that state but it would have gone from being complete to being broken (if something had happened to break it) to being complete again, or reverted to the raw materials out of which it was made once time was reversed. The agency changing time is concerned simply to change it, not to change it from first having been in a particular form.
(If you were able to take time within a certain area back to a particular point, you certainly couldn’t do it by removing any objects or people who weren’t there at that point, as is sometimes suggested. The mere presence of an object which happened to exist in that place at the temporal point in question, or of one identical to it, does not mean that time itself has moved to that point; nor can the removal of objects which were NOT present have that effect. Since time is simply the fact of things continuing – an abstract, though real, quality with no corporeal dimension – it cannot be affected by the presence of any physical entity, and cannot therefore be shifted backwards within a particular area by the removal from that area of a person or object not present in it at the particular moment in the past to which it is desired to return to, as in an episode of the TV series Sapphire and Steel where an evil elemental force which desires to cause chaos by interfering with time tries to roll it back to the 1930s within a particular house by killing all those who weren’t living in it then, starting with the youngest. This would merely recreate the feel of the place as it was in the thirties. We are talking about two different dimensions here; all that would be accomplished would be a change in the physical nature of the environment (by the removal of certain people from it). Even if time could be shaped and manipulated in the way so often implied in fiction, and its behaviour affected those of the people and objects “in” it, it would still be distinct to some extent from those people and objects, so that there’s no more reason why removing someone from the house would roll time back there than why it should turn the house pink. At best you’d only make the house like it was before; to achieve an actual reversal of time would require some other means.)
If rolling time backwards is impossible, so too is rolling it forwards. There’s nothing to roll, because the future hasn’t happened yet; or it wouldn’t be the future, whether or not it was preordained. At best you would see nothing.
In sci-fi one sometimes finds that a part of time is rolled back/forwards while the rest of it stays where it is. After all, a part of a physical object can be in motion while the rest of it is stationary, as long as it doesn’t change its actual location which would involve the rest moving too if they remained integrally components of the same unit. But this is implying that time is itself a physical entity, part of which can behave or be made to behave differently from the rest, or that it is an area of space, in which different things are happening from those which happen in another area of space. It is neither.
In order to escape being affected by the very process it was causing, whatever made time go backwards or forwards would have to itself exist outside time, and nothing can because, again, it is not an area of space. This might only apply if it was the whole of time that was being made to go backwards or forwards, but once we have assumed that our hypothetical agency could roll back a part of time there is no reason why it shouldn’t be able to roll back the whole of time as well. Yet another obstacle to controlling the direction of time is that if you wanted it to reverse quickly, this might in purely physiological terms have a dangerous effect on some of the things in it – for example human beings, whose hearts cannot stand the strain of too rapid physical activity (regardless, after certain point is reached, of how old or young or fit or unfit they are). If I run backwards at a rapid enough speed I risk dying of exhaustion, the same as if I ran at an abnormally fast pace forwards. If it was time that was being accelerated forward the same risk would be involved.
But, as I have already argued, you can’t reverse/accelerate time anyway. And where some things can’t happen backwards, it is because of the laws of cause and effect and not time. However those laws of cause and effect do have a bearing on what you can do with the latter, as we’ll see in due course.
Because time is simply continuation nothing can make it go backwards or forwards. Nor can it be caused to stand still (it sometimes happens in sci-fi that things are frozen in time), because arrestability, again, is a property. That couldn’t be done either to a part of time (as when a localised freezing or reversal of it is engineered in order to stop some imminent catastrophe from happening) or the whole of it. Where time is being frozen a paradox is involved; if time - the whole of it, or just a part of it - really were standing still, then a moment when it was stationary would be succeeded by one in which it was still stationary, or perhaps had started moving again. So time would still be passing. This paradox squeezes out any possibility that time does stand still, whether through natural or non-natural causes, whatever its other implications might be.

In matters concerning time what most exercises the intellect and imagination is the idea of time travel, in other ways than simply being carried along by time’s natural passage (and so being born, living, dying etc). The subject is important because of certain ethical ramifications if it is possible, and because if it isn’t possible attempting to accomplish it would be a waste, if I may say so, of time. If you accept my earlier arguments, you will have already concluded time travel isn’t possible. If we are proceeding on the assumption that time is something more than just continuation, then the position I intend to take is that time travel is nonetheless unfeasible and that even if it wasn’t it would carry with it such dangers that it would be morally irresponsible to undertake it.
In fiction time travel usually takes place in one of two ways:
(1) Displacement of objects in time.
A good example of this occurs in the Doctor Who story The Time Monster, when the Master, the Doctor's arch-enemy, tries to kill him using a V1 flying bomb transferred from 1944 to the Doctor's "present" (which here was 1972). A farmer who witnessed the V1's crash remarked that one had come down at that spot in 1944. What is curious about the episode is that his memory of the V1's wartime crash isn't changed by its crashing contemporaneously. Yet if the V1 which crashed in 1972 is the same as that which crashed in 1944, surely it must be altered, unless the V1 of 1944 was not so much displaced in time as duplicated, and it was the duplicate which time-travelled.
Temporal displacement of objects and other entities may perhaps be possible, although how and with what kind of mechanism we cannot say (it implies that something other than the entity itself is travelling in time, though we don’t know what), but it would be extremely unwise to attempt it. It has to be accepted that the memories of those who witnessed the object's disappearance must indeed change, which along with any other consequences of the displacement would constitute an alteration in the course of history, with possibly disastrous results. The presence of any object in a particular place, or its removal from that place, and the way it behaves may affect the course of events. If there exists in some location accessible to me within the course of a single day a stately home or a ruined castle, and I am interested in historic buildings, I may decide one weekend to go out and visit them, rather than stay at home and be killed or severely injured when a fire ravages my house. Memories also influence our behaviour. A remark made to someone by a farmer that a flying bomb landed at a certain spot in 1944 might conceivably lead to a discussion (not necessarily involving the farmer) about the Second World War generally, with one of the participants becoming seriously interested in the subject and deciding to write a book on it. Now suppose that during the course of researching the book they visit a certain library on a regular basis, eventually falling in love with one of the staff or a fellow researcher and marrying them to produce two fine healthy children? It is unlikely, perhaps, that such a chain of events could occur but it is not impossible. If the farmer's memory of the V1 is erased by its temporal displacement and he consequently fails to mention it at the right time, our researcher will never meet his future wife, presumably marrying someone else instead, and their children will never be born. If you can displace an object in time, and the universe functions on efficient lines, perhaps being run by a benevolent intelligence which only permits a certain, inevitable amount of disorder there must be some means of ensuring that the displacement does not disrupt things too seriously, however much the person responsible for it may care or not care about the consequences of their actions.
It is of course possible that the displacement accords with an actual historical event. For example, let us say that the crew of the Marie Celeste were displaced in time from the nineteenth century to a time after the present one (the twenty-first). We know they did disappear in 1872, so no dangerous temporal "ripples" would be caused. But if this is always the case when temporal displacement occurs, and such is not due to coincidence, temporal displacement cannot occur frequently without the suggestion that what has happened in the past has been predetermined; in other words, that we have never possessed free will. And we never will possess it if events in the future are also predetermined.
For the displacement to accord with a known historical event implies that the event was caused by the person who is doing the displacing, and that that person knows they caused it. Otherwise, if they wanted to avoid any serious disruption to things, they would have simply let them take their course. What’s being implied here is an agency that can, and does, displace things from time to time at its own convenience, though it’s not clear why they do so.
Certainly its interventions in time are potentially disastrous. The consequences might be equally unwelcome if temporal displacement somehow occurred naturally, though that’s something which the nature of time does not allow, the tendency for displacement to occur being essentially a property. The only safe way for things to be temporally displaced would be for them to be transported to the future from the present, rather than from the past which would inevitably be altered by one’s actions. In that case they would mysteriously vanish into thin air, which would be strange enough but not actually damaging as long as they never returned for any length of time to the past, which would definitely risk changing history by their subsequent presence and actions there.
(2) Time travel most often takes place in the sense of an object or person, or groups of objects or persons, travelling bodily backwards or forwards through time, usually in some kind of craft specially designed for the purpose. The rest of the universe stays where it is.
Some reasons for denying the possibility of time travel are, in my view, invalid. One often hears the argument that if it is possible we would have encountered time travellers from the future. But if the invention of time travel lies in what to us, in 2011, is the future, then obviously nobody in the present or past would have met any yet (with or without realising it; perhaps UFOs are time machines). But if, at some time in the future, we do become able to travel into the past, and those living in 2011, or 1911, or AD 11, see a time machine then our memories will change as a consequence (they would even if we didn’t know it was a time machine - people in a pre-scientific age, for example, most likely likely thinking it was sorcery or divine intervention - though not with the same result). A distinction might be drawn between "original" or "primary" time and time after it has been altered by the actions of time travellers (in science fiction it is usually travellers to the past who change time by their actions, though if the future is in some way predetermined, but with scope for altering the ordained pattern, then those who go forward in time can change it too; for one thing, the future era to which they went would be the past to people in an even later time). We would not be aware of the change because of the effect on our memories. This being the case, one might argue that no trouble is effectively caused by interference in the course of history; but quite apart from it seeming unacceptably horrible for someone's birth to be prevented by going back in time and deliberately or otherwise killing their grandfather, to the extent that we feel constrained to try to avoid it - especially if the someone is ourselves - it would obviously be a terrible thing if, say, Hitler had won World War Two, whether or not we knew that his victory was due to the actions of malevolent or foolish time travellers. It is possible that time travellers follow a code of conduct designed to prevent any damaging interference with the course of history, which would prohibit their announcing their presence to anyone. Hence we cannot be sure that time machines haven’t visited our era, and we will remain unsure depending on how carefully the time travellers obey their code of conduct. Since nothing is infallible though, the likelihood is that sooner or later one of them will make a mistake which reveals them to be what they are.
Were time travel to become possible, history could presumably be changed any number of times as well as in an infinite number of ways. Since memories would change when time did, it could never be the case that someone (let us call them person A) going back in time and changing history would prompt someone else (person B) to go back in time themselves in order to prevent the change and return time to its proper course.
The very possibility of time travel implies that changes to the course of history can happen, so what we have to establish, and in the course of this chapter will establish is whether time travel is, or isn’t, possible. If time is a succession of events, each of whose occurrence determines what will happen in the future, then you certainly could alter the present (and thus future) by going back into the past and changing something. If you, say, killed someone's father before they were conceived, they would certainly wink out of existence in the present (and all the effects of their having existed, their interaction with objects and other people and any knowledge they have passed on, would be cancelled out, the world and our memories changing as a result) because things cannot happen without a cause, and if you were to remove the cause by going back in time and preventing it they would have to have done so, which is absurd. The cause of the person's existence was the sexual union of their mother and father, and if you went back in time and prevented that event by killing one of the partners before it was to take place, the person would not be born. Perhaps some agency might devise a means of creating people other than the usual one, and then go back in time and ensure that the person you had erased was brought into being by that method. But you could then go back in time again and prevent their action, as you did with your victim's original conception. The same would apply with any other means someone could devise of creating a person.
We may assume, on the basis of the present state of our technology, that no time machine has so far been built and operated by inhabitants of Earth, so any time travellers who visited past periods of Earth history would have to be from either the planet's future or some extra-terrestrial civilisation more advanced than ours.
It is often sought to disprove the possibility of time travel by citing some of the paradoxes which would follow if it could be achieved. My personal favourite is that which occurs in Doctor Who’s Day of the Daleks, as well as on numerous other occasions in fiction. Here, a group of freedom fighters from a future Earth travel back to the twentieth century in order to prevent the Third World War, which devastated the planet and allowed an alien power to invade and conquer it. The war had been started, according to historians, by a warmongering politician, Styles, who arranged a peace conference between the three principal world powers at his country home and then blew up the house with the delegates inside. So the guerillas' mission was to assassinate Styles before he could carry out his plan. One of them, Shura, destroyed the house in the mistaken belief that only Styles was within – so were the delegates - thus bringing about the very thing they had sought to prevent.
Let us analyse the situation again. The guerillas read in their history books about an event which occurred in their past and go back in time to stop it, not realising that by doing so they would in fact be causing it. They are not intending to create a totally new situation, though that in effect is what they do, but are seeking to alter one which, to them, already exists. Shura did not mean to be the cause of the catastrophe, which arose out of a tragic mistake (he had become separated from the other guerillas and in addition was deranged). But as far as he knew he was attempting to carry out his team's original plan. His killing of the delegates was undoubtedly a result, though an indirect one, of their journey to the twentieth century. His intentions when he first embarked on his mission, and when he detonated the bomb which destroyed the house, were the same.
Logic suggests events cannot happen before their causes; it can be no less impossible for them to happen without a cause at all. And if an event has a particular, single cause it must be that cause which causes it and no other. Thirdly, if to achieve a certain thing is sufficiently important to us we will always aim to act in a way consistent with that goal. If these are absolute principles, as they must be, they will apply to the workings of the mind as well as everything else. And apply irrespective of time, even if the latter could still affect people’s behaviour if it was possible to manipulate or travel in it.
Actions, for sentient and reasoning beings, begin with thoughts in the mind. We have the idea, "I will do such-and-such." The concept is followed by the action, which is in turn followed by any consequences arising from the action, whether or not the person or persons performing it are aware of them and whether or not they are what was intended. Logic, which allows no other sequence of events, must be unaffected whether or not one can travel in time, and whatever the way in which one does. A reaction to something must by definition be conscious, if we are not acting
instinctively or under hypnosis, and the something can only be what an agency other than us has done (whether or not we thought the cause was it or us), or what we ourselves did earlier (either willingly or, with or without afterwards realising it, under some mind-controlling influence). The consequences could be direct or indirect. Whatever the circumstances in which the original event took place, and whatever is seen as the cause of it, it is now desired to reverse it.
The guerillas could not have reacted to a situation which arose - albeit accidentally - out of actions which were their own, but which they had not yet had the idea of committing, regardless of what they saw as the motives for those actions; and which they could not, in the nature of things, have wanted to commit. They would certainly not have deliberately done anything which led – directly or indirectly - to the war they sought to avoid; nor would they have done it at all unless they thought they were actually achieving their desired aim, because it would otherwise be a pointless waste of effort. Initially they are living in original rather than altered time, but they nonetheless can still only respond to a situation which as far as they can see is not of their making (if they had truly created it willingly, without their minds being manipulated, they would probably, unless extremely forgetful, have remembered their actions, even if a person under some form of mental control might not be aware that they were).
The whole scenario is rendered impossible not only by the laws of cause and effect but by the laws of what causes produce which effects. We are presented with a sort of closed “loop” (not the same kind of time loop that results when someone is caused to go through the same points in time repeatedly, an impossibility anyway if time is a property and not a thing). This closed loop results in an action being uncaused, and in a way that’s particularly grotesque. It is ruled out by the nature of the mind and of logic. All things considered, the reason why the guerillas do what they do doesn’t come from anywhere, indeed can’t do, and yet come it does. However, the absurdity of the situation doesn’t, of itself, rule out time travel per se, if we leave aside all the other reasons why it isn’t possible. It merely means that the guerillas’ mission couldn’t have the particular cause which it did. What is logically impossible simply wouldn’t happen, but time travel still could if other criteria were satisfied. It would be quite possible for the guerillas to want to travel to the twentieth century to stop the blowing up of the conference if the latter act had been done by someone else (an inhabitant of that era, or a time traveller), and if on their arrival they unintentionally did something which only helped cause the war they could either accept that consequence, no doubt feeling pretty miffed with themselves, or attempt to reverse it, perhaps by a second temporal journey if they only realised what they’d done after returning to their own time.
However, there are other paradoxes which do rule the possibility of time travel out altogether. Going back in time implies the ability to commit actions which in some cases at least would be logically impossible. It may not appear feasible to change history in that for things to have happened and yet not happened seems absurd and inconceivable. In one sense it is conceivable. An “event” is not the same thing as a physical object or a thought impulse. It is merely the way in which the object or the thought impulse behaves. Events happen, but they do not exist. The objects whose behaviour constitutes events are composed of particles, and the events are caused by some action or rearrangement of those particles. When we change the past so that different events happen from those which occurred in “original” time we are merely altering the positions of the particles making up the entities whose actions constitute the events. To the question of how something can have happened and yet not happened, the answer must be that in a sense everything happens, because events are essentially the actions and interactions of physical objects and energy-states, and the molecules which compose those objects and energy-states will always exist regardless of whether anyone has been messing about with time.
However, there is clearly a qualitative difference between an object when it has any given property or location in space and the same object when it has any other given property or location, regardless of whether it always remains numerically identical with itself, and that qualitative difference is a causal factor of great importance. (Perhaps “location” is not a qualitative value, since where something is doesn’t necessarily make a difference to its actual nature or properties, but it is qualitative in the sense that it’s a fundamental fact about the object if it’s at A rather than B.) Let us ask ourselves whether, when time is deliberately changed by the action of a time traveller, we can say that an event/object which was thus prevented from occurring/existing really occurred/existed? Yes we can – because if time is now on the course onto which it was shifted by the temporal change(s), there must be a reason for that. It was shifted onto it for a purpose, and something must have “happened”, or existed, to create that purpose. The person which did the shifting shifted it by their actions from that course onto another, and its being on its current course is therefore a result, and effect, of having previously been on another (because someone wanted to change that course). A “change” must necessarily be a transition from one state of affairs (an entity having a certain property or behaving in a certain way) to another, and the original state of affairs is the cause of the state to which they have altered. To deny this would entail that things could happen without reasons, without causes, and that’d be silly. We are presented here with a paradox that proves the impossibility of time travel, because things would both have happened and (because we went back in time and changed the past) not have happened. They could only have done one or the other. It doesn't make any difference if you didn't deliberately intend to change anything, or it is possible for time to change through natural causes. Change essentially involves a transformation from one state to another, whatever brings about that transformation, and something's being in its original state is therefore the cause of its assuming a new state (or there wouldn’t be any “change”).
It’s quite possible of course that even if you did manage to go back to the right point in time, something might still happen, unexpectedly, to prevent you killing your grandfather; your gun might jam for example. But as long as there is a possibility you may succeed the paradoxical (in this case, because killing Grandad meant you weren’t born, couldn’t have travelled back in time and therefore couldn’t have killed him) situation may occur, even if it doesn't, you have a paradox. Because paradoxical situations are so, well, paradoxical, so logically absurd, that the factors which would create them cannot even be possibilities, let alone certainties.
Attention has often been drawn to these paradoxes in the past, and indeed I see no reason why they should not ensue from the ability to travel in time. Some are not really paradoxes at all. Consider the scenario of a time traveller presenting the young William Shakespeare with a complete edition of his own works, which the Bard then publishes under his own name. Who then actually wrote the plays? Well, it was Shakespeare having done so in unaltered time which was the cause of the time traveller making his journey into the past and changing it, mischievously or perhaps with genuinely good intent. There is still a causal chain connecting Shakespeare to the publication of the works, it’s just that the nature of it has changed because of the time traveller’s intervention. All that’s happened is that Shakespeare can become famous (though in fact that largely happened after his death) without having to make quite so much effort.
Other paradoxes are paradoxes and pose a rather more serious obstacle. The most famous, already mentioned above, has you journeying back in time to kill your grandfather when he was a child. To recap, if you succeed you would never have been born, so you could not have gone back in time to kill Grandad (leaving out the point that it’s a very stupid thing to do in the first place). You would both have travelled in time and not travelled in time, been born and not been born. By virtue of what I’ve argued above, the Grandfather Paradox rules out time travel.
David Lewis attempts to argue that there is no contradiction involved:

"Tim's killing grandfather that day in 1921 is compossible with a fairly rich set of facts: the facts about his rifle, his skill and training, the unobstructed line of fire, the locked door and the absence of any chaperone to defend the past, and so on. Indeed it is compossible with all the facts corresponding to those we deem relevant in Tom's case. Relative to these facts, Tim can kill grandfather. But his killing grandfather is not compossible with another, more inclusive set of facts. There is the simple fact that grandfather was not killed. Also there are various other facts about grandfather's doings after 1921 and their effects. Grandfather begat father in 1922 and father begat Tim in 1949. Relative to these facts, Tim cannot kill grandfather. He can and he can't, but under different delineations of the relevant facts. You can reasonably choose the narrower delineation, and say that he can; or the wider delineation and say that he can't. But choose. What you mustn't do is waver, say in the same breath that he both can and can't, and then claim that this contradiction proves that time travel is impossible." (15)

All I can say in response to this is that is a contradiction. Of the two “delineations of the facts,” both cannot be true. To question the view that they are is not "wavering" so much as stating a logical truth. For nothing can break the laws of logic. Their undeniability means they have to permeate everything and so there is nothing untoward about something which results in a logically impossible event being itself impossible. It figures. It’s because we don’t always see the bigger picture, one in which logic is the ultimate arbiter of everything, and has regulated it comprehensively (for better or worse) from the start, that we object to an action that seems possible in itself, and must if it does happen have certain consequences, being ruled out. If A means, and is accepted as meaning, that B is impossible, and C implies that it is, then A must invalidate C even though A and C are not directly related, causally or in any other sense. The truth of which A is a part also includes, as a necessary corollary, the non-truth of B and thus the invalidity of C, even if C is arrived at through considering a very different subject matter and by adopting a very different kind of thought process. (A would have to mean that B was absolutely impossible, otherwise it might still be true in a sense represented by C). We certainly cannot say "A is possible; A implies B; B is impossible; but A is still possible." This doesn't make sense; either B is possible or A is impossible. Where, say, science suggests we can go faster than the speed of light and thus travel in time but logic means we can't, the logical impossibility of time travel is an inbuilt, structural limitation which we merely do not happen to have fully discovered, and therefore accepted, yet and which will become apparent when the technology which science told us would make time travel possible is tested and found not to have its desired effect (assuming it is possible to get as far as building it). The system of facts, of truths about the universe, which science seeks to analyse, and which may when it is analysed give people the idea that time travel is possible, also includes the impossibility of time travel; it's just that for one reason or other we are unable to see that. It might be that scientists could make calculations whose implication appears beyond dispute, and get as far as building an actual time machine, with a reasonable expectation that it would work, but ultimate success would always elude them. If something is logically impossible, it is reasonable to conclude that any mathematical or other deductions which tend to confirm it are mistaken, or are speaking a language which is not applicable in all circumstances.
Lewis also defends the suggestion that paradoxical "time loops" can occur in real life:

"Recall the time traveller who talked to himself. He talked to himself about time travel and in the course of the conversation his older self told his younger self how to build a time machine. His older self knew how because his younger self had been told {by his older self}. But where did the information come from in the first place? There is simply no answer...strange! But not impossible, and not too different from inexplicabilities we are already inured to. Almost everyone agrees that God, or the Big Bang, or the entire infinite past of the universe, or the decay of a tritium atom, is uncaused and inexplicable. Then if these are possible, why not also the inexplicable causal loops that arise in time travel?"(16)

This last remark is somewhat offbeam. Nowadays most intelligent Christians would not deny that everything which happens must do so for a reason, whether or not it's possible for the cause and the effect to be the same thing (I contend that the belief everything is ultimately an idea in the mind of God is not as absurd as it might seem, and that it offers one possible explanation for His ability to exist "uncaused"). There must be an explanation for God's existence, it's just that we don't know what it is (and won’t until we meet Him face to face) and it's very hard to find. That we don’t know it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
If Lewis can be wrong on the example which he uses to justify his views, he can be wrong on the views too. In fact, the idea that things can happen without a cause is surely offensive to reason whether one is talking about God or not. As Lewis says, a world in which time travel took place would inevitably be a strange one, but there is a difference between something which is merely "strange" and something which defies the laws of logic.
We cannot use Lewis' extremely questionable, in my view, argument to prove the assertion that temporal paradoxes (whether involving time "loops" or any other variety of apparent absurdity), and thus time travel, are possible. If one accepts what he is saying, we have divorced ourselves so completely from logic that just about anything is possible (including his own arguments being wrong; in other words, the statements he makes to support them actually devalue them). Nor (if you don’t mind me giving him such a hard time) is he correct in suggesting, as he does at one point, that there may be different branches of time (separated from each other not spatially or temporally but in some other way), in one of which Tim kills his grandfather while in the other he doesn't. Time not having properties, it can’t have the property of being divided into different components.
White seeks to resolve the paradoxes by bringing in the parallel universe theory, in which the creation of a situation to which there are at least two possible outcomes creates also two different universes in each of which one of the outcomes is a reality, regardless of time travel. If you can time travel you can also both kill and not kill your grandfather, but because each outcome happens in a different universe there is no paradox. However, if you accept my argument that mere possibilities are not enough to create universes this is not a way out of the dilemma(17).
One suggested way in which the universe may act to prevent grossly improbable distortions of reality is itself, it must be said, paradoxical. Professor Igor Novikov suggests that in line with the principle of least action, one of the basic tenets of physics (although not a qualified physicist I would imagine that it is much the same thing as the principle of conservation of energy, for it appears to dictate that the energy being used in any physical system is only as much as is absolutely necessary to do the job) there is a non-paradoxical, self-consistent sequence of events. We are asked to imagine a billiard ball going through a wormhole and back in time (wormholes are thought to make this possible because they basically result from a distortion of the fabric of the universe). Something (perhaps the operation of logic, if it is equivalent to Novikov’s “self-consistency” principle?) aims the ball so that when it emerges from the mouth of the wormhole it collides with its earlier self and prevents it from entering the time machine in the first place.(18) Assuming time travel is possible in the first instance, Novikov may be right. The trouble is, there is still a logical impossibility at the heart of things. There are two billiard balls in existence (or one could not collide with the other) where there should only be one because (a) the ball is qualitatively and quantitatively identical only with itself and (b) if it can be duplicated then so can everything else in the universe be by the process that we see here, namely the possibility of time travel and its paradoxical effects, and it is not clear how the copies of each entity would all be accommodated.
Yet another question which is of crucial importance in the matter is that of whether we are the same person from one moment to the next. We have, I hope, accepted as valid my argument earlier in the book that the individual person cannot be split into different components, except physically. If they can’t, then they can’t travel in time either. If we go back in time, and were alive at the point to which we travel, we will be in two different places at once, and this cannot be if we are always the same person, even if the only difference between ourselves and our "doppelganger" is numerical i.e. they have exactly the same personality, physical configuration, memories, brain pattern etc. This means among other things that a man who went back in time could not father himself, quite apart from from factors to do with the laws of genetics which would be unaffected by time travel. It is not necessary to actually meet oneself for the paradox to be one, as some I think have suggested; it is enough for your two selves to both be present in the same time zone. It might be thought that the problem would be taken care of if we went to a time before our birth or after our death, but in fact it wouldn't. Our molecules would still be existing in two places at once. In the past, they would both be in our own body and in the bodies of our ancestors, waiting to be reproduced by the action of genetics; in the future, in both our complete body and a decomposing buried one (or, if we had been cremated, as particles floating around in the atmosphere).
The only way the problem could be eliminated would be if some agency destroyed your past or future self, in such a way that not even the tiniest sub-atomic particle remained, at the point when you left your present. If you had to travel through some sort of Space-Time Continuum, which might be thought of as being outside time and space as we know it, to get to your destination your past or future self might not need to be destroyed before you were actually in that Continuum; but if you existed at all in any real fashion while you were there - if you didn't, you could not make your journey - and your other self too was in any sense real, a logical impossibility would still ensue. However the destruction of your past/future self, even supposing that it could be accomplished in such a way as to leave not even the smallest particle (and science suggests it couldn't), would risk altering the past with consequences which could not be predicted and might well be catastrophic.
Something else which occurs to me is that none of the above objections would count if you were travelling only in time, and not space too. If that were the case, you would presumably merge with your other self (but you'd have to know exactly where they were standing in the time period to which you were going, as well as be in the same spot yourself). But if, indeed, we are quantitatively the same person all the time, and cannot be in two places at once, that merging would not be possible; for two things to merge implies that they previously existed as two separate entities occupying different points in space. Also, the physical bodies of both selves would have to be retained, since matter of any kind cannot be destroyed, cannot come into existence out of nothingness or vanish into it; this would result in a very strange and probably non-functional hybrid organism if one self were older or younger than the other, and thus physically different from it in various respects, with different hormones influencing body chemistry and behaviour. Since, as we go through life, our experiences change our personality to some extent the composite person would also be schizophrenic. Even if there were little difference between the two selves in respect of age (or of gender; if you had had a sex change at some point, you could end up a hermaphrodite!), the merger would still have odd and probably unwelcome consequences. We would end up with a person twice as large as a normal human, with their torso, limbs and all their organs doubled in size (not being a biologist or a doctor, I wouldn't like to say what kind of physiological problems this would cause).
Lewis attempts to make the duplication of a person through their travelling in time seem plausible:

"A time traveller who talks to himself on the telephone…looks for all the world like two different people talking to each other. It isn't quite right to say that the whole of him is in two places at once, since neither of the two stages involved in the conversation is the whole of him, or even the whole of the part of him that is located at the (external) time of the conversation. What's true is that he, unlike the rest of us, has two different complete stages located at the same time in different places..." (19)

It would seem, then, that on commencing his journey through time he split into two different segments occupying two different positions in space. The segments also exist in different kinds of time; one inhabits the traveller's personal time, the other is in external time. Elsewhere Lewis says:

"What unites the stages (or segments) of a time traveller is the same sort of mental, or mostly mental, continuity and connectedness that unites everyone else. The only difference is that whereas a common person is connected and continuous with respect to external time, the time traveller is connected and continuous only with respect to his own personal time." (20)

But nothing that is true about time or time travel can contravene what's logically or scientifically necessary. If the time traveller split, how did the split take place? The process by which this happened must be described. Neither segment of the time traveller could have appeared out of nothing; and it is not clear how what must be a biological, physical process is initiated by a change in his temporal position. Time travel would undoubtedly, yes, lead to the creation of two kinds of time, personal and external time (if that were possible, which it isn’t); but in both of them the laws of logic and of science would still have to apply.
I submit that we are continually the same person because the essence of time, or at any rate an essential enough component of it, is continuity. Continuity implies that something is continually existing as itself (otherwise “continuity” would be the wrong term to use) from one moment to the next. This applies to "finite spirits" such as ourselves in the same way that it would to beings like God. Those finite spirits could possibly be annihilated and reconstructed every other fraction of a second without realising it. But their basic molecules are indestructible, so they would always exist regardless of what form they were in. If a different set of molecules were used, then what came into being would not be themselves but a completely different, if only in a numerical sense, person or entity. As for the mind, the non-physical part of ourselves, even if that was divisible or destructible the same principle applies as with matter; unless logic is to be denied whatever it is made of cannot be created or destroyed, cannot originate from nothingness or disappear into it. Logically whatever exists, regardless of its nature, must either have previously been in existence as itself of been fashioned from something else, and by that same token its components must survive whatever changes it undergoes.
Therefore we are essentially the same persons from one segment of time to another and so cannot be duplicated by any travelling in, or manipulation of, time. So the scenario whereby someone goes back in time and meets themselves is not possible.
You are always quantitatively and qualitatively identical only with yourself. So if you could go back in time you would not be able to see, touch or otherwise interact with you. Yet time travel implies that you could. The same problem comes up when we are dealing with inanimate objects rather than people - as does another. McBeath points out that when a time machine begins its journey into the past there will be, for a short period, two different objects, or two phases of the same object, at the same point in time and space. He argues that this kind of problem could be solved if time travel were in the form of a jump, as might happen if someone were to fall into a black hole.(21) But what, in such cases, is being jumped through? To get from A to B, whether one is travelling in space or in time, means passing through some sort of medium, unless you just disappear from point A into nothingness and materialise, out of nothingness, at point B. And that implies a spatial dimension which time lacks.
So unless the whole of time has been rolled back rather than individuals visit different time periods, time travel is ruled out by its implications for personal identity.
As well as the paradoxes, facts about the basic nature of space and time serve to make it increasingly unlikely travel through the latter can ever be attainable. Regular journeys backwards and forwards in time entails that the past, present and future are continuously existing places, unless perhaps it is the case that the whole, or a part, of time itself is being moved backwards or forwards rather than that individuals are travelling through time. Apart from the fact that the past and future would not be the past and future – the future has yet to happen and the past never exists because it has ceased to be – we would need to ask, if the three temporal “stages” are all continuously existing places, exactly where they existed, for laws relating to space would still have to apply regardless of what one could or could not do with time.
When a time traveller arrives in, say, Renaissance Italy, they are in a place which clearly has a physical existence, within which movement between various points is possible, and which must therefore occupy a certain amount of space. Where is that space? It cannot be the space which is taken up by modern Italy. It is probable that there are many spatial points which have, either successively or at points in time which may be fairly widely separated, been occupied by more than one object. There could be, say, a spot down the road from me which is currently taken up by a 1960s office block, which replaced a Victorian warehouse on the same site, and which in ten years’ time will itself be demolished and replaced by a leisure centre. If the world of today occupies the same position in space as that which existed in the fifteenth century or any other period of history before our own, along with that which will exist in the future, then there must, if time travel is possible, be a certain number of objects existing in exactly the same spatial location, something which is physically impossible.
As indicated above, the problem would be overcome if it were the whole world or universe which had travelled back in time. Then, objects would simply return to the positions they occupied before they occupied other positions, or take up entirely new ones; if they were/will be at some point physically broken up, their mole-cules will disperse into the atmosphere or assume new forms elsewhere. But this is clearly a different sort of thing from what happens when Doctor Who goes somewhere temporally in his TARDIS. It would also involve certain dangers. In the case of time going forwards, the person wanting to see the future would have to be somehow isolated from the effects of the process; otherwise a point might be reached at which they died (the cause of their death perhaps being something entirely unexpected). If time went backwards they would immediately reach the point just before the process began; it would thereupon cease, and they would never reach their destination.
The point of space where they arrive might become occupied at some stage by a physical object such as a wall, perhaps with nasty consequences. If only yourself is travelling, and is not within some kind of machine, you’d end up imprisoned within the wall, or maybe some other, equally horrible consequence results from two things competing for the same spatio-temporal location. Alternatively you, or your time machine, could materialise inside a furnace or on the bottom of the sea. The possibility of ending up in an unpleasant or dangerous environment is a hazard which must face all time travelers whether their destination is the past or the future (though a lot depends on whether you are inside an actual machine and how fireproof/waterproof it is); it means they must have a detailed and 100% accurate knowledge of where they are going in space, which in the case of the future would amount to ESP. Quite apart from the impossibility, unless free will is denied, of ever being able to predict the future – to know what will exist in it, in what form, and where – the knowledge would for both past and present be prohibitively difficult to acquire.
The only other way the physical restrictions on the concurrent existence of a past, present and future might be overcome is if, whenever anything – anything at all – changes anywhere, the world is somehow duplicated in its entirety and the copy transferred to a different point in space from that which will be occupied by the original and still existing world. As with choice bringing into existence parallel universes, this would mean duplication of people, the creation of our future selves, in the shape of fully-formed adults, quantitatively different from ourselves, with intact memories of things they could not have experienced, just because a sparrow had fallen. The process would have to take place every second or so, as the changes do. Apart from the fact that any time machine which was ever developed would have to have a mechanism for locating, in space, each of the countless worlds which would be created by it, the whole scenario inevitably seems unacceptably absurd. It has been a recurring theme in this book that whether or not time travel is possible, nothing about it can contravene the laws of logic. If they are absolute, they must apply, among other things, to considerations governing space. This has several crucial implications for the would-be time traveller, other than those mentioned above. In Renaissance Italy or twenty-eighth century London they would seem, from fictional examples, able to move from A to B and interact with the objects and people found there; in other words it is a place which exists in space as well as time (we find our own time zone to be the same). If the past, present and future can be regularly travelled to by individuals, with the rest of the universe remaining in whichever one of them it happens to be, such would suggest they are continually existing places; if that is the case, we cannot call them by the terms we have assigned to them. (Perhaps they can be if time is analagous to space, but it isn't). If the future presently exists then it is not the future, going by what we would normally understand the word to mean. It’s the same with the past. Our whole concept of time and its component parts would have to be changed. The duplication of the universe is also impossible if there can only be one space. Finally, the concurrent existence of a past, present and future, rather than each replacing the one which went before it, would break the continuity between them which explains why things happen as they do. The past might still exist somewhere, though I doubt it, but the future hasn’t yet been decided by the actions of the present and so can’t already be, not here or there or anywhere.
Perhaps the most important point of all is that time travel contradicts the laws of cause and effect. The future never exists, so in “original” time the time traveller could never undertake his journey into the past or present; because he doesn’t exist, at any rate the future version of him who will make the journey doesn’t. It has not yet been decided, if I may put it that way, that he will be born or, if he already has been, that he will be able to make his journey, and he won’t if someone murders his mother while she is expecting him or he decides time travel is an unprofitable line of research and he should spend his time on something else instead. But he must be born, and press the starter button on his completed time machine, before he can visit 1066 or 1588 or any other point in the past. A valid objection may be that the past when the time traveller visits it is simply altered time (altered, that is, by his visit); but there would still remain the problem of where the past was, if one could go from original time (the present) to altered time (the past). Temporal journeys may be possible if past present and future are separately existing realms akin to areas of space, but then they would not be past present and future. Perhaps only the past, along with the countless successive presents, can go on existing, because by definition the future never does exist. But it would be a very strange state of affairs. If events still occur, if life still goes on, there then it is not the past but a parallel world (or rather a vast number of parallel worlds), the result of some process of duplication, existing in real time. And we’ve already established that rolling time, whether over the whole universe or just a part of it, backwards is unfeasible, and so doesn’t provide a way out of this absurdity. It’s logically impossible for time to go backwards, whether naturally or as a result of temporal tinkering by intelligent life forms, because of the laws of cause and effect. Since logically cause must precede effect unless it is simultaneous with it, events can only happen forwards direction. If the cause follows the effect then it is not a cause and the effect simply happens, which is absurd.
You might say that whether backwards time travel is ultimately possible depends on the particular nature of time, because in one sense things would not be happening before their causes; even though we would be travelling in time, we would still have to be born, and get into our time machines, in the twentieth century and then arrive in the Middle Ages. Though there is still, in a sense, backwards causation, it is not of a sort which makes the temporal journey logically impossible. In an important respect, the causal arrow would still be travelling forward. It depends whether time is analogous to space. If it was, the “cause before effect” principle would not apply. There could simply be two kinds of time, original and altered. But any analogy with space would imply the scenario we’ve already rejected, that where the different stages of time are concurrently existing places. Again, the only alternative is for the whole world to travel in time and apart from the objections already made to such an idea, it is not what is normally envisaged when we think and speak of time travel. Lewis, along with many others, makes the mistake of assuming that time is analogous to space, likening instances of external or personal time to distances within the latter,(22) and it is this which I believe leads him to reach erroneous conclusions, such as that it is quite possible for someone to meet themselves by travelling in time.

Yet another problem with time travel is that free will would be contradicted. If the latter is not an illusion then strict limits on the way one can time travel are implied. If we could travel to the future, our exact destination could not be an object such as a building, or indeed any particular point in space if points in space are to be represented by objects, from the smallest up to land masses or entire planets. We could not be sure that those locations existed for us to travel to; they might have been demolished, or devastated by nuclear war, unless the future is predetermined. As suggested before this also means that people from our future cannot travel into their past – our present – to meet us, since they do not yet exist. If we had gone into the future and then returned to the present, we would be travelling back to the latter through territory whose existence would always have been inevitable. The only sense in which we could go into the future would be that of travelling to a point in the past and then journeying back to one’s present; one would be journeying through what would to the people living at the point in the past to which we had gone be the future.
The non-existence of the future means that it cannot be viewed, without actually travelling to it, using some kind of “time scanner”; there’d be nothing to see. It might be possible however to view the past, but only if previous events and previously existing objects/people create an impression which remains after they have gone and under the right conditions can be seen (which might in fact be the case, and is probably what happens with ghosts).
The future (if it has any present existence) may exist as a kind of void, in which objects and people appear if, as time moves on, nothing happens to prevent their continuing to be. The only things that would exist there would be those whose nature was such that nothing, natural or man-made, could ever destroy them – the subatomic particles out of which everything is constructed (whether this would have the effect of making the realm look like a void I am not sure, but whatever kind of world we are talking about here would not in the long run be very interesting). As time moved on without anything happening to prevent the continued existence of an object, its particles would come together to create it. If we travelled to the future in a time machine, and it really was “the future”, we would have to wait for time to catch up with us in this way before anything interesting could be observed. How long the waiting would be would depend on how far into the future we had travelled (although spatially it would have nothing about it to recommend it, time would still be going on). I imagine our time traveller would not be prepared to wait more than a day or two unless they had gone into the future for some very important reason. Waiting for periods such as a billion years would be particularly irksome! But in any case visiting the future would be rather a dead loss since it would exist only in the void form until events caught up with it, after which it would of course no longer be the future but the present. And the danger wouldn’t just be of boredom. If, as time moves on, nothing happens to prevent an object from continuing to exist at that point in space, such as its being moved or destroyed (that is, molecularly destructured), and it becomes a part of the future, of what in one sense would be my present, it will materialise at exactly the point where I am standing, possibly with gruesome consequences.
Not everything would of course be affected by the variable of human free will. Anything which wasn’t would be found to exist in complete, rather than basic molecular, form in the future realm. But given the ability of Man to devastate his entire planet through nuclear weaponry, perhaps even physically destroying it if enough nuclear bombs were detonated on a major fault line, it seems safe to conclude that the future would be entirely a void. If there is anything existing in it as more than basic molecules, or performing any particular action, it will have to have been preordained, because of how human free will might otherwise affect things.
Travel into the past (if the past exists as a place to be travelled to) does not contradict free will quite so much, because past events have already happened. By undertaking it we would not be restricting people’s freedom and indeed might be doing quite the opposite. Merely by being present in their time zone, when previously we were not, we would unless we were impossibly careful be altering the pattern of events by creating different or additional possibilities for the people living there, through doing and saying things which they might respond to. Because it can’t be assumed that even the most apparently insignificant action wouldn’t, unexpectedly, have far-reaching consequences that would make the future of everything, including ourselves, undecided. We would automatically return to our own time (we might not have built our time machine in the first place), merging with our original selves if time travel results in people being duplicated, and might even wink out of existence altogether because if we had gone back far enough, even our births would become a non-certainty. We wouldn’t come into being again unless events should actually happen to result in them, and it might be fortuitous if they did.
To avoid these problems we would have to make absolutely sure that our actions when in the past would not have unfortunate consequences. This would require a detailed knowledge of it which, since we do not always know why a thing happened, whether it was a seemingly trivial occurrence or something of global import, or what caused an individual to make a particular decision, and because any event however seemingly trivial could change the course of history, would have to encompass not only wars, battles, major treaties, great discoveries and inventions and the identities of the leading politicians and soldiers, but everything that happened, whether because of humans or some natural cause, on every day since the creation of the universe. We’d have to be certain that any action we performed, including scratching an itch, was consistent with the “proper” course of history; it is clear that attempting to satisfy this criteria would be a nightmare. And how could we acquire such knowledge in any case, unless we were omniscient, or were in communication with a God who was and could advise us what to do and not do? Yet without these safeguards travel to the past would, in view of its potential dangers, be morally irresponsible.
If there are a host of other inhabited planets in the universe, then this information, if we were at all altruistic, would have to include their histories too, if we were travelling to their past or future, or they visited Earth at some time and had an influence on its development (we might not be able to prove whether they did or not). We would have to have discovered the existence of all of them, which the size of the cosmos would render a dauntingly protracted, if not impossible, task, if we were not to leave some of them out of our calculations and thus run the risk of interfering in the course of their history with calamitous results – for us as well as them, possibly. The collection of all this information would be an impossibly tedious business unless entrusted to a computer, and even then it would take a prohibitively long time. So Man will probably not be in a position to safely undertake time travel for millions of years, if ever.
It’s possible the race doing the time travelling are themselves not human, and therefore might not encounter such obstacles. Their technology may be far in advance of ours and their psychology very different. But one has to assume they are capable of making mistakes, and the consequences of such mistakes, which might include the SS goosestepping down Whitehall, are not nice to think about. If they are incapable of mistakes they must have evolved to such a degree of perfection that they in effect constitute God.
There have been many occasions in science fiction where the actions of time travellers are actual historical events, or accord so closely with them that no real damage is done. What the time traveller does when he goes into the past is not so much to change history as to fulfil the role it has assigned to him. But he seems to do it so often that free will must be called into question, everything apparently being preordained, unless he is simply being irresponsible, with his irresponsibility fortunately having had no bad effects thus far; and if he knows it was he and no-one else who performed/is to perform the action which makes history, and has free will, might he not choose to perform a totally different action or none at all? Maybe it’s unlikely he would be so foolish, but it is not impossible unless he is (a) morally perfect and (b) absolutely immune from any disease, illness or other thing which could cause him to act irrationally or against his will; and for either of these conditions to be met it would be necessary for him to be God. Hopefully, if disaster is to be avoided, either he is God or the latter exists and has created some safeguard against the consequences of the time traveller’s doing the wrong thing.
We may not want to go back in time and change our past, so that our present status is in some way improved, if we appreciate that averting the bad things which have happened in our life would also mean we would not have had certain good experiences. The very fact of events being potentially interconnected, in ways we might not appreciate, means that the consequences of reversing a bad decision, or putting right any damage it caused, may unexpectedly result in a worse situation than the decision caused; also that the impact would be on others as well as oneself, altruism therefore demanding that the risk not be taken.
There is a further reason why changing the past would be wrong; and why God, if such a being oversees human affairs, is not going to permit it. His purposes could be frustrated by someone using their free will to go back in time and prevent what he had caused to happen. This wouldn’t apply to his direct intervention in affairs (which may or may not be the explanation for some, at least, of what we call “miracles”), because no mortal has the power to so obstruct his designs. But it would seem that having created the universe, God most of the time stands back and simply lets it function as he has ordained, with intelligent life forms having the ability to influence what happens to some extent because he has allowed them a measure of free will. He has reasons for this, not the least important of which is that unpleasant as well as pleasant things can have a good spiritual effect through the way one learns to overcome adversity and in the process develop moral fibre. This benefit would be lost if people were able to stop those unpleasant things from ever having happened. Of course God could easily act to restore history to its proper course but it could still be derailed again, forcing him to continually intervene to put them right. There would then be no point in giving people the freedom to change history unless Man could be trusted not to do that and God knows that Man, being flawed, can’t.
Even if we prefer to dismiss God as irrelevant to the whole question, time travel and thus the possibility of changing time would still have a catastrophic effect because it would render all human behaviour, whether its effects were good or bad, entirely pointless. There would be no point in doing anything if someone might go back in time and prevent it; even if they didn’t deliberately intend to the possibility that they might do it accidentally would be enough. It might seem that as with other matters, things are likely to happen by accident less frequently than they do by design, especially if one is careful. But they may still happen, humans being fallible. And and if just one instance of changing time is permissible so might any other be. In any case the nature of things is such that the time traveller is likely to change history in any number of unforeseen ways merely by being present in the past, so the distinction between accident and design is here rendered irrelevant. There remains too great a danger. In effect taking on the role of God, someone could go back and prevent the prevention, and then someone else could go back and prevent the prevention of the prevention, running the risk of turning the whole business into an absurd farce. To prevent this something must be regarded as having been the proper course of history, and as such inviolate, even if something else might just as easily have occurred instead.
There might be a way of going back in time without actually being able to interact with anything there or even being seen (which could have as damaging an effect) by the inhabitants of the time period you visited. God would have to make sure it actually did work in this way (humans, even if they possessed the best will in the world, couldn’t be relied upon to do so). Otherwise, I don’t see how either He or Man could have any objection to it. It rather depends on whether time travel is possible in the first place.
There may be a machine which can ascertain everything that happened in the past (it could not, for reasons we have already discussed, predict the future) and so analyse whether changes to it are permissible or would have prohibitively damaging consequences. But it would be so complex and omniscient that you might as well have God do the job.
There would be nothing wrong, and perhaps a great deal of good, in merely looking back through time using some sort of temporal scanner, if one were possible, to see what had happened in the past in order to learn from it, to satisfy intellectual curiosity, or both. Having ceased to exist the past itself cannot of course be viewed, but past events could leave some kind of trace, some image, which might under the right circumstances be detectable. At the moment we have no way of knowing whether this is the case or if a machine could be developed to take advantage of it.

The belief that time travel is possible stems from a failure to consider the whole range of different issues that have a bearing from it. Its most common cause, however, is a misunderstanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Because Einstein talks about space and time being “bent”, some have seen relativity as demonstrating that it is possible to cover a million miles in a few minutes or to drop in on Julius Caesar or Napoleon for a cup of tea and a chat. To dispel this notion we need to look through the smokescreen unintentionally created by Einstein’s choice of words to isolate what he was actually saying.
Gravity, because of its cumulative effects over distance, influences everything which exists in what Einstein calls “Space-Time”. It bends light waves, sound waves etc and also affects the atoms of which solid objects (including human beings and clocks) are made, causing measurements of time to differ. Because gravity lessens/increases with relative distance from a body which exerts it, such as the Earth, the events by which we measure time can happen at different speeds. An observer on the ground hears and sees a different time from a clock than one high up on a tower, and thus further away from the earth, does from the same kind of clock.
In addition to being bent by gravity and the curvature of the Earth, light and sound both have to travel a certain distance to get from A to B, no matter how fast they move (and light in particular, according to Einstein, travels very fast indeed). Each observer is looking at/hearing their own clock not the other’s, so it is not because of the distance sound and light must travel that there is a difference between the results, the two sets of data. One might object that since light travels faster than sound, would there not be a strange interval between seeing the clock and hearing it tick? But there isn’t, because the actual speeds of sound and light are not affected by distance except of course in that they take longer to get to their destinations. Light and sound will still travel at the same fixed speeds relative to one another. The sound will be heard, and the position of the clock hands observed, by each observer at the same fixed (for them) moments according to the speeds of sound and light respectively, as would occur anywhere and at any time, under experimental conditions or not. In neither observer’s case is there any actual distortion of time, as we will see later.
Despite the language sometimes used by exponents of relativity the clock itself does not affect time, by definition of its being essentially a device for measuring it and nothing else. It’s merely that whatever affects the behaviour of everything in time will by that token affect the clock too, so it keeps in line with the changes.
The human brain finds it convenient to divide time up into segments, and we make clocks in order to remind us which ones we are in. But they have no special relationship with time of a kind which would involve any change in its nature, or its own behaviour
affecting them differently from other things. In one episode of Sapphire and Steel the clocks in a house stopped because an evil force had frozen time, and yet characters were still able to talk and move about as normal. Non-sentient objects also behaved as they would if time were still functioning normally. There is no reason one can see why the clocks should stop but everything else remain unaffected. The clock would stop moving, but so would everything else, so there is no significance in the clock's stopping. Nothing that happened to the clock could affect time, only the other way round. Apart from the fact that time doesn’t exist to be influenced by it or by anything else, if it did then the clock would be no more likely than any other mechanical instrument, such as a washing machine, an airliner or a soft drinks dispenser to be doing the influencing. Clocks may not always be accurate in any case, since rather than forming part of the laws of nature they’re designed by fallible human beings who don’t even agree on the standards by which time should be reckoned, let alone maintain that standard properly from one moment to the next.
Over very long distances, gravity will cause differences in the rate at which biological processes take place, so that an astronaut on a journey to a distant solar system (if such a journey were possible), would age more slowly than his brother back home on Earth. This is the famous “Twins Paradox”, which isn’t really a paradox at all; not because there’s no such thing as absolute time, as relativists claim, but because it’s only perceptions of time which are involved here and not the thing itself.
Albert Einstein was a brilliant man. Nonetheless NASA used Newton’s theories rather than his when planning and carrying out the Apollo missions, because it was simpler, and it worked (fortunately, since the consequences of getting things wrong in a matter like this would be disastrous); proving that Newton’s science was not so much replaced by Einstein’s as subsumed within it in a wider understanding of the physical universe. Einstein was perhaps too clever for his own good – even some university physics graduates don’t understand him. It is also true that millions of people live, and have lived, their lives quite happily without understanding or even knowing about relativity (or Newton for that matter). But if the theory of relativity (hereafter TOR) only explains the behaviour of things in the universe rather than of the universe itself, it is obviously still doing something extremely important. There is nothing wrong with it in itself. Where I disagree with it is in its apparent claim that time is itself responsible for the changes observed in the Twins Paradox, in some other sense than their happening, by definition, over a period. All scientists who have proceeded from an acceptance of the TOR have allowed time to enter into their calculations without first establishing exactly what it is – something no scientist has ever effectively done. Or they have been injudicious in their use of language.
It is important to appreciate that Einstein himself wasn’t suggesting, for example, that time travel in the form encountered in science fiction is possible. “Passing back and forth through time like that entails horrendous logical problems in the workings of the Universe, which Einstein himself would abhor”(11). But he does appear to be saying that it can be malleable in a way I don’t believe it is. And talk about “time” being warped by gravity tends to encourage misapprehensions. I have come across one sci-fi yarn in which the following conversation takes place:

Doctor Who: “If you are looking at a distant star you may be seeing it as it was at the time of the birth of Jesus {I think probably longer}. If that star, or sun, has a planet and there are people living on it with a telescope strong enough to observe events on Earth, what would they see?”
The Doctor’s companion: “The Romans invading Britain.”
Doctor Who: “...It puts to question the idea that time is inflexible. On Earth it was that chap Einstein who began to realise what was happening. Time, you see, moves at different speeds in different parts of the universe.”

Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, W H Allen 1976, p41-2

In another book in this series, Einstein’s theories are clearly cited as a reason for thinking time travel in the science fiction sense is feasible.
The writer who penned this story, whatever his literary merits (and they were not negligible), was in any case recognised among Who fandom as a rather poor scientist. But we have to be on our guard against taking routes which will end in a cul-de-sac. It is worth repeating, though I always say it with some regret, that our task is to search for the truth and that we therefore can’t embrace ideas that are unsound merely because they make the universe more interesting. Apart from anything else it’s a waste of intellectual effort.
Returning to the Twins Paradox, it appears to involve a suggestion that time can move faster in one part of the universe than it does in another (therefore one twin is older than the other even though they were born at the same time). When we say that people can measure time differently this cannot mean that there are different kinds of time, or that it moves more quickly in one part of the universe than it does in another (as opposed to its merely seeming to do so). If time goes more quickly for person A, who is engaged in some vigorous physical activity, than it does for person B who is just idling, it merely means that their perception of time differs. It is still the same time that they are both in. One has not aged more quickly than the other, they are still the same age chronologically and biologically.
Here again we must consider the question of what time is. It is not a commodity, an entity; it is simply the product of a logical truth, namely that certain things must endure because they cannot be destroyed. Therefore it cannot have properties, such as the ability to move at different rates in different parts of the universe. Also, if time flowed at different speeds in different parts of the universe some things would effectively happen before their causes, since everything is interconnected. Everything would have to happen at the same rate, implying that time was absolute.
I argue that Einstein has been misunderstood if his findings imply that:
(a) One can travel in time
(b) Time moves in anything but a forward direction (i.e. can be reversed)
or (c) Time can be made to stop.
And by now, you will know why.
It is also misleading for scientists describing how relativity theory works to speak of “regions of slower time”, or of time “increasing”; because time doesn’t have these or indeed any other characteristics.
Someone like Hawking would insist that we can’t dismiss the possibility of a reversal of time’s normal direction, so that, for example, people would die before they were born, because theorists we don’t yet know enough about time. But this very lack of knowledge about time means that we have no authority to speak of it the way the TOR does. I doubt that when the scientists come to know more about time they will find it can defy the laws of logic, which are the reason why it cannot be reversed. No scientific research can possibly prove what is purely and simply, in all possible worlds, impossible. Refusal to believe time can flow backwards is not just imposing on things our subjective view of them, because of the way our minds perceive the universe (a universe where time always appears to move forwards). It is intellectually justified.
Regardless of how it has been represented to us the theory of relativity, therefore, can only describe how we perceive time. If that perception is affected by gravity then obviously this would apply to the experiment which is used to verify the theory; so naturally it will be verified. It is not correct in respect of what time is exactly, if time is anything.
Though relativity theory gives us a model of the universe which suits us, it should not be confused with the real thing. The scenario of the astronaut and his twin brother, for example, merely describes the behaviour of entities that exist within time, not time itself; namely, the effects of gravity upon living organic tissue. Nor can the perception of time, the measurement of it, which results from such behaviour be the same thing as its object, any more than a photograph of a person is quantitatively or qualitatively identifiable with the person themselves.
Einstein appears to define time according to what happens in it; it is because he fails to realise that time must still be going on when nothing is happening, even though we would probably lose our sense of it, that he is led to commit the error of talking about it as if it’s malleable. The big flaw with relativity theory is that it defines time in terms of events rather than of continuation. (In fact it is measurable by both, although continuation is the more difficult method for us to manage when nothing is going on (how easy it might be for a God, or a being approaching Him in ability, I cannot say). Events achieve the purpose by implying a period before they occur, a period during which they are occurring, and a period after they have occurred, and we find this particularly useful in reckoning what we call time.
Because things exist in time everything they do happens in time, the action of a thing being depending on its being around to do it. We therefore make the mistake of thinking that the action and the speed at which it is performed are determined in some way by time, acting as a concrete external agency operating on the things within it, and that the reverse can also occur. In fact the action merely contributes towards our awareness, and our measurement, of time and does not interact with it in any other fashion. If it is particularly energetic it can make time appear to go faster, but not only is this something subjective to particular individuals who happen to be engaged in strenuous exercise, it is so by virtue of being a mental and physiological characteristic of human beings – of entities that exist in time – and thus more a matter of biology and psychology than of physics. It just means that if things continue existing they will also continue to perform whatever actions they are physically capable of, and because of the whole phenomenon of continuity they will also be continuing while they are acting (or the action would not logically be theirs). Time is inevitably a continuation of both existence and occurrence – within the same frame of reference, because one is dependent on the other.
One of the implications of what I have been saying is that because the theory of relativity is only describing people’s perceptions of time or the behaviour of things within it rather than making a statement about time itself, it is not necessarily correct in maintaining that time is not absolute. Measurements of time are themselves not absolute because of the way our limited human nature affects our perception of events. Since logically the perception of a thing is different from the thing itself, Einstein in fact says nothing about the nature of “time” at all. As the fact of continuity is not altered by differences in the way time is perceived, time is absolute.
Relativity means that people can age differently in one part of the universe from people in another, but this is only a difference in the behaviour of objects existing in time and not in that of time itself.
Relativists speak of “Space/Time” being warped by gravity. Like other things about relativity theory this needs to be understood as not literally true. Again, it is the poor use of language which makes the correction necessary. If time, as we have I trust established, is not a physical entity it can have no shape and therefore can’t be curved. As for space, if it is infinite it cannot be curved either, because that implies something exists other than it, to form a background against which it possesses its shape. Since there is no logical reason why space should begin or end at any particular point, it must be endless – at any rate we haven’t conclusively proved that it isn’t. Newton is thought of as having proved there was no absolute space, but by “absolute space” I am talking of space as in extension, rather than the qualities – gravity, light, sound, radiation etc – which exist within it, or the spatial location of a particular entity. As with time, however, Einstein is really saying not so much that space is curved but rather that what makes it up is curved. Everything in space, and no area of space is empty but is instead made up of particles, is affected by gravity. It is a series of curves – which, if space is endless, must be an infinite series of curves. The area in which those curved things exist is another matter.
So relativity doesn’t mean you can take a trip in your TARDIS to Ancient Rome or the days of the dinosaurs or, as some have suggested, use a wormhole to time travel by stretching it out to create a corridor between two points in time. Time isn’t that flexible. Nor can it permit you to fold space around itself like a piece of Origami. However those who would disagree with me on all these counts, if unable to appeal to the court of relativity, might go to that of quantum theory – which combines gravity with the laws governing the behaviour of the subatomic particles which make up all entities and which it is thought will eventually replace Einsteinian physics and subsume it in a general theory of everything – instead. Or of string theory. Both can be interpreted as demonstrating that the universe is structured in such a way as to allow distortions of normal time and space. But that interpretation may not be the correct one.

Time travel and parallel universes, then, are not possible; but we learn much about the universe in the course of finding that out. Most of it may seem to be of a negative character, proving what is not the case rather than what is. But perhaps dissuading ourselves from taking paths which terminate in dead ends will lead us to concentrate more intensively on exploring the other mysteries of the universe, or consider new and more rewarding ways of doing so. Perhaps we should rediscover God? If the social, economic and political problems the world currently faces are solveable we might rather turn our attention to ending the current obsession with commercial profit, dealing with the darker side of liberalism, and reorganising the basis on which society is run so as to develop technologies which do not harm, to our own ultimate detriment, the natural world. We ought in fact to do both; but either way, I suspect it would achieve nothing but good.

Consider the following passage from a novelisation of the Doctor Who story Pyramids Of Mars (for the plot, and a further consideration of the issues resulting from this particular scenario, see below under point (4) in the following chapter):

"Sarah saw a huge, bleak, barren plain, stretching endlessly away, devastated by a perpetually howling dust-storm. Here and there were a few shattered ruins. That was all. No plants, no trees, no animals, no people, no life of any kind. A dead world.
"That's your world as Sutekh would leave it {said the Doctor}. A desolate planet circling a dead sun."
“But I don't understand. Earth isn't like that." (Sarah comes from 1980, in which the Earth is quite obviously a living planet teeming with human beings, and the Doctor’s attempts to stop the alien Sutekh from laying waste the universe take place in 1911. The Doctor is taking her and scientist Laurence Scarman forward in time to demonstrate what will happen if he fails).
"Every point in time has its alternative, Sarah. You've just seen into alternative time."
Laurence had been listening in fascination. "Extraordinary. Are you saying the future can be chosen, Doctor?"
"Not chosen but...shaped. The actions of many men are history. But it takes a being of Sutekh's limitless power to destroy the future." (When the Doctor says this he means that nothing of any significance will happen in the future because Sutekh will have destroyed all living beings who could appreciate it. Time may still progress).

The above appears to combine the idea of alternative futures with that of parallel universes. It suggests that there are in existence an unspecified number of different worlds, one for each of the possibilities inherent in a particular situation. Some of the above can be agreed with; it is of course true that the actions of the present shape the future. But objections can be raised, some of them by now familiar. If every point in time has its alternative, and this results in the existence of a vast number of universes (the precise amount would depend on how many possibilities were involved in each individual situation, and would be constantly changing), where do they all exist in space (for they clearly do have some kind of existence in space if the Doctor can go there). They could not all occupy the same point in space and time. As with the problem posed by the implied existence of different time zones at the same spatial positions, some agency would have to be arranging things so that there would be room somewhere or other for each universe to exist. Of course the TARDIS would have to be programmed with the location in space, as well as time, of the alternative 1980.
Secondly, the idea that the possibility of something can actually create an alternative world where that something happened has already been discussed in the section on parallel universes (which are much the same thing as what we’re talking about here), and found to be implausible. The destruction of the universe, including Earth, is the inevitable outcome if Sutekh isn’t stopped. But he might be stopped; the scenario of the blasted and barren Earth is conditional. There isn’t even operating the kind of process which I suggest in the next chapter may happen with precognition of inevitable events. Except in an abstract, rhetorical and non-physical sense possibilities, especially when they are only that, offer no concrete material out of which reality can be fashioned.

(1) Nigel Calder, Einstein’s Universe (BBC 1979), p147
(2) Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (Transworld Publishers 1988), p175
(3) Paul Parsons, The Science of Doctor Who (Icon Books 2007), p292-300
(4) ditto
(5) ditto
(6) Parsons, p314-15
(7) Lawrence M Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (Basic Books 1995), p152
(8) Parsons, p295
(9) Parsons, p40
(10) Parsons, p229-232
(11) Parsons, p231
(12) Parsons, p15-20
(13) Krauss, p31
(14) Krauss, p34
(17) Michael White, The Science of the X-Files: The Truth (Legend Books 1996), p161
(18) Parsons, p44-45
(1) "The Paradoxes Of Time Travel", (American Philosophical Quarterly No 13, 1976), p145-52, reprinted in "The Philosophy Of Time", ed. Murray McBeath and Robin de Poidevin, p134-136) (1)
(2) Murray McBeath, "Who Was Dr Who's Father?" (name of journal not known) p411
(3) Lewis p135
(4) Lewis p143-4
(5) Lewis p140
(6) Lewis p134
(7) Lewis p146
(8) McBeath p413-4
(9) ditto p137-8
(10) ditto p138
(11) ditto p139
(12) McBeath p426-7


(1) Ghosts
The most commonly understood meaning of the word “ghost”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form, or otherwise manifesting its presence to the living.”
If you believe in Christian theology, ghosts are unlikely to be the souls of the dead; the soul, once it exits the body and is judged, has its appointed place and isn’t likely to leave it. If God is truly just and the soul has deserved its fate, then it wouldn’t be allowed to leave Hell, or somehow couldn’t. Of course if Hell is a state of being, a state of mind, rather than a place this wouldn’t apply; but a damned ghost which had after all deserved its fate would not be permitted to haunt the living in such a way as to make them feel miserable (for the ghost would probably not look very happy, and sadness can be communicated). A soul in Heaven would probably not want to leave it unless it was to give advice to the living on some important matter, presumably with God’s approval. Whether they do or not is an unanswerable question. If all departed souls are all in a kind of limbo until Judgement Day, which is some theologians’ opinion, then they cannot visit our realm as ghosts at all.
I am inclined to discount the stories of ghosts rolling their heads across the floor of a certain Oxford college, walking about with them tucked underneath their arms or hanging down their backs by a strip of flesh (as does the murdered smuggler at Happisburgh, Norfolk). It seems implausible, and probably owes much to local embellishment; but then I don’t know what ghosts, if they represent some kind of intelligent agency and with abilities different from or greater than those a mortal human would possess, are capable of.
If not a lost soul, a ghost could be a corporeal being which has assumed a new form, something akin to a kind of energy (generally the idea is that they are not physical, although they are able to interact with material objects). Death could simply be transmutation from one state of being into another, without being “damned” or “saved”, although if there is nevertheless a God that could still be the soul’s ultimate fate. (If a ghost is able to converse with mortals, as some fictional examples do, this indicates a conscious sentience, showing that the spectre is clearly not “dead”, if having a conscious mind is an essential component of “life” as surely it must be). We have absolutely no idea as to whether such beings exist; all I personally can say is that energy life forms seem to me at least conceivable. They may still look like normal, physical human beings, more or less, or at any rate choose to do so if that is in their power.
However, to my mind it’s altogether far more feasible that ghosts are images of people, objects or events which happened/existed in a particular place and at a particular time, and have somehow left an imprint behind them in the way that a negative is created when a photograph is taken using a film camera. Occasionally something happens to, as it were, develop the negative. There is no sentient intelligence present. Some people have a genetic predisposition to see the image while others do not. It’s something they share with animals, as the strange behaviour, on occasions, of various cats I have had in my time – hissing at things that didn’t appear to humans to be there, and behaving as if doors which had been filled in long before they could have seen them were still present – may indicate. The cause of this is probably also the reason animals can sense when an earthquake is coming before it registers on the Richter Scale. They have heightened powers of perception. In Man, the development of what we would call reason meant that other faculties atrophied, although they were not, it seems, eliminated altogether and from everyone.
If the ghost is simply an image of something which existed somewhere at a particular time in the past this would explain why, if human, it is wearing the costume of that era, and also why ghosts from all periods are seen (which they are; consider the phenomenon of the phantom hitch-hiker). One might ask, if the whole theory is correct, why people don’t for example see phantom dinosaurs; but it could be the image fades over a certain period, and in the case of the dinosaurs had gone long before Man was around to perceive it.
It is also feasible, though equally unproven, that many poltergeist incidents (where objects are moved about, sometimes violently, and/or damaged, without any familiar cause) are in fact due to telekinesis and that the latter faculty, if it exists, can become active (though only temporarily, it seems) with puberty, when a young person may experience a lot of emotional angst. Telekinesis is conceivable if thoughts are akin to electrical impulses and electricity can move physical objects (which in industry, it does); and it seems not unreasonable to suppose that latent paranormal powers could be unleashed at times of stress, as is often the case in science fiction stories, although there would also have to be genetic factors involved. Poltergeist cases often, in fact, centre around young teenage girls. The above may also apply to other kinds of haunting, if the power enables you to see what others can’t or its “breaking-out”, even for a brief period only, causes mental disruption, resulting in hallucinations.

In the Doctor Who story Logopolis, the planet of that name is inhabited by a race of mathematicians whose calculations, termed “block transfer computations”, maintain the universe in its present form, avoiding the entropy which could cause it to collapse in on itself and preventing a dangerous build-up of energy within it by creating mini-universes into which the energy can be channelled, through gateways called CVEs (Charged Vacuum Emboitements) as a sort of safety valve. The impression given is that the sheer incontestability of mathematical truths is enough to produce physical changes without any further activity being necessary. This however would seem to be an example of the tendency, sometimes dangerous, to be seduced by the particular beauty of mathematics into thinking it can do anything. I am perhaps biased in that I was always notoriously bad at the subject, and as a writer find words much more congenial anyway. But although maths is obviously an important part of working out how to construct physical entities (from their already existing components) and making them do what you want them to do – it is invaluable in the space programme - merely making a mathematical calculation, however accurate it is, does not of itself cause an object to assume the form and behave in the way you want it to. Does it in real life? Of course not. It merely assists the process by showing where the structural components, which have to be separately manufactured and assembled, should go. Mathematics may have the merit of being the only thing about which there is absolute truth but it is still mathematics for all that.
There is one way in which the Logopolitans could have done it. They would also have had a telekinetic ability amounting to the power to create physical objects by mental effort. Since for the best results the process would have to be accomplished fairly quickly the mind would have to fashion the objects out of some readily available material, which would probably have to be some form of energy constantly present in the atmosphere (I don’t know if there is such a thing). I have often wondered what exactly the mechanics of telekinesis would be, and how they would work, and my novel The Ragnarok Dossier in which telekinetic superbeings appear was an attempt to discuss the possibility. It seems to me that to create an exact, workable likeness of an object or living being the telekinesis would have to be really good. The skill and power involved would seem formidable and it could be (depending on how exactly the telekinesis works in practice), that the telepath would have to be a skilled mathematician at the same time, the two processes being allied and simultaneous. The precise shape, position and structure of each component could then be accurately calculated.

(3) Art
Working by engaging with one or more of the five senses of the body, though it may also appeal to the intellect, art can be described as the creation of something beautiful, visually, musically or in the form of literature, for its own sake. The definition can be extended even further, for there can legitimately be said to be an “art” of cooking, or an “art” of public speaking, or an “art” of statesmanship, but in the interests of simplicity we shall confine it to the three areas first mentioned. It can of course have other purposes besides aesthetic ones, such as that of instruction; but in art which has a political or moral purpose the aesthetic aspect can be harnessed to the aid of the ethical or ideological one. By arousing the senses in order to give pleasure or cause disgust the artist can highlight the beneficial consequences of a particular form of behaviour or political philosophy, or its harmful ones, demonstrating why we should support or reject them.
Sometimes, as in objects designed and built for a practical purpose, any aesthetic value will be secondary, though still important in such things as cars and houses which have always been popular status symbols as well as providing us with somewhere to live and a means of getting quickly from A to B when we need to (and thus would have been created whether they could have been made attractive or not). In structures and machines intended to be purely practical it is usually unintentional (though no less sublime for that as evidenced by the beauty of, among other things, the traditional sail windmill which was designed in the first place for the very practical purpose of grinding corn into the flour from which was baked the bread our ancestors needed to eat to stay alive). But that isn’t always the case, and certainly wasn’t. The ornamental nameplates and polished brasswork that one finds on Victorian machinery indicates that engineers of that time felt their work should be nice to look at in addition to being technically efficient. Increasing standardisation, already by that time beginning to affect everyday consumer articles – the Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction against it – and the faster pace at which business is conducted, which allows less time to concentrate on the aesthetic aspect, have since then destroyed a lot of this, which can only be regretted.
There is a lot of controversy about what makes “good” art. But art of course can’t be subjected to any objective criteria of assessment (something which is perhaps abused by those looking for an excuse to inflict drivel on us?). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in any case, and needs to be if people are to have full individuality. Part of the point of art is that it cannot be reduced to an objective standard of competence, of quality. To have one would debase not only art itself, but people, to the level of the purely mechanical. As we saw above the mechanical can itself be aesthetically attractive but, crucially, differences of taste are still preserved; some people would not be particularly interested in steam trains or traditional windmills and even among those who are there are preferences, some steam buffs regarding the Great Western Railway “King” class as their favourite locomotive type while others would go for Bulleid’s ”Merchant Navy” Pacifics (if that means anything to a non-enthusiast). There are some things that all of us would find attractive, or ought to – if a new airliner was unveiled that was impressive in its size, revolutionary in design, and beautifully streamlined it would be odd if people were unimpressed by it - but at the same time so many other areas where personal taste has play that individuality is always preserved.
However there has to be a limit to this inclusivity, even if it is a generous one. There is a tendency, perhaps, to lump any old bits of rubbish together and call the result a work of art. The artist obviously believes it is art, and their views deserve to be taken on board unless it can be demonstrated that they are clinically unhinged. That does not mean they are right. Academicism and Impressionism, modern art and traditional art, are very different styles which cater for very different tastes and are both valid. Reservations only begin when we are presented with very ordinary, and uninteresting, objects doing what they normally would be doing, and invited to see it as a great cultural achievement. If the artist is saying that everything is beautiful in some way, that everything is a work of art, then in a way they are right. But if ordinary, everyday objects in their ordinary, everyday guise are works of art, then you won't need to go to an art gallery to see them; you'll see them anyway. To pay to put them in a gallery or museum is a waste of often scarce financial resources which might be better spent elsewhere. To arrange them in an unfamiliar way is of course another matter and can legitimately be viewed as art, because there is still an element of novelty. If you don’t agree, or reject as nonsense – because you don’t think it is art, or just don’t like it, then that's a purely subjective judgement.
If a piece of work is unusual it means either the artist is mad, and we have no option but to give them the benefit of the doubt, or that he is trying to say something, to make a point, and if you don't get that point you can at least have lots of fun trying to work out what it is. The criteria is exceptionality, irrespective of whether anyone likes or is offended by the work and thus supermarket trolleys, in themselves, are out. There is a thin dividing line; perhaps a supermarket trolley on its own is nothing special, but a supermarket trolley with a bucket on it is. What does the mounting of the one on the other signify? The mere fact that there may be a significance makes it a valid work of art. Unless an artist specifically states what his purpose was in painting a picture (and that risks spoiling the whole thing), what it is intended to satisfy will always be a subject for conjecture. Interpretations may well be totally mistaken.
Another frequently asked question is whether there is or should be any moral standard in art (the issue raised by Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.) The question applies to all branches of it. If Wilde really believed there shouldn’t be morality in art, he probably did not see the implications of such a philosophy (for however one regards his homosexuality he was not, in the generally understood sense of the term, a wicked man). Anyone with any moral goodness in them sees what is immoral – defining the term as meaning willful behaviour which is spiritually, emotionally or physically damaging - as undesirable and repellent, and therefore as something ugly. If immorality is ugly, it cannot by definition be good art.
There is, admittedly, a kind – only a kind, mind you - of moral duality in art (and especially in literature, though it can be employed to good effect in the pictorial arts too) by which undesirable things, whether resulting from natural disaster or human evil, and the damage they do have to be portrayed vividly, evocatively. Though some would question how far literature should carry a “message”, it does legitimately act as a kind of mirror of society, one that is necessary in reinforcing our collective selfconsciousness in the same way that historical study does, as well as preserving those ethical standards to which we all ought to subscribe. When we recognise in ourselves the emotions that the characters in a novel possess it helps to remind us that everyone else has the same instincts, hopes, fears, feelings as we do; in effect, that we belong to a human community. At the same time, we cannot emphasise how repellent is human wickedness, or how much natural disasters should be avoided, or their effects mitigated, where possible unless we depict their consequences in fairly graphic detail. For its own purposes too literature needs to focus on such things because it must depict a recognisable world for the reader to identify and thus be happy with what they are reading. A recognisable world unfortunately includes a great deal of suffering.
One should cover the whole range of human emotions in literature. But that is only because it is necessary to and not because one revels in the evil side of human affairs or human suffering generally, whatever its cause. So a moral standard still prevails. For the sake of drama, of engaging the audience’s emotions, the writer needs to be disturbing, but he is not being disturbing for its own sake. Immoral art is disturbing for its own sake (since art is done for its own sake). Violence and moral corruption are depicted in the interests of realism but the author is not indicating approval of the things in question and may indeed be seeking to warn the reader against them. Of course the dividing line is fine at times, but it’s still there.
There are cases where the excuse of artistic validity clearly doesn’t hold water, or at least is looking a bit leaky. A moralist should be dubious about the paintings of prostitutes which crop up so frequently in the works of nineteenth-century French artists. As in all ethics, much depends on the motive. The painters could simply have been recording the social history of one’s time – again, art has an educational and academic as well as an aesthetic purpose – something which ought to have been done anyway, and they would have found the task uncongenial, and therefore difficult, had they not had a certain fascination for their subject. If this is so, they are morally exonerated if indirectly. But there is one painting, I forget which, where the expression on the prostitute’s face, her physical attitude, and the efforts gone to by the artist to capture them indicate that it’s the sleaze which is meant to be artistically appealing as much as anything else. The picture is, in my humble opinion, rather repugnant and goes beyond the merely erotic into realms which are distasteful. Morally there should at least be a question mark over the business. Eroticism, in the right circumstances, is perfectly acceptable, whereas prostitution is a degrading and hazardous profession which we would be justified in eradicating totally however difficult that task, for various reasons, might be.
In politics, Nazi art encouraged people to believe the Aryan race was superior and that Jews were evil subhumans. In objecting to that (as we ought to) we are implicitly recognising a moral standard. No art is morally neutral, because unless it is specifically designed for evil purposes, it reflects the beauty of the world and our ability to express, as we should, that beauty, in other words is morally good, and can even be said to express a moral imperative. Moral neutrality is no more wrong than moral wickedness; we need to have an appreciation of right and wrong, and if we do it has to be from a sense of love and care for our fellow humans, such as leads us to do what is right by them. Moral neutrality would be something cold, loveless and unappealing – and so, therefore, would any art which stemmed from it. Wickedness is in fact simply the absence of good (if you are amoral then the needs of others will be an annoying distraction to you, leading you to resent and dislike them).

In Terrance Dicks’ novelisation (W H Allen 1976) of the Doctor Who story Pyramids Of Mars, the good Time Lord has landed in 1911 where a malevolent Egyptian god, Sutekh, is plotting to destroy the world. The Doctor has to stop him, of course, but his companion Sarah Jane Smith wonders why they need bother, as she comes from 1980 – concrete proof, to her mind, that Sutekh didn’t succeed. To prove she’s wrong the Doctor takes her and scientist Laurence Scarman to her own time, where they find the world a lifeless desert. Sutekh did succeed. Preventing this will depend on what they do in 1911; what they are seeing is the most likely outcome of events unless they act. "Are you saying the future can be chosen, Doctor?" asks Laurence. "Not chosen but shaped,” the Doctor replies. (p.64)
It is probably incorrect to say that anyone, Man or God, chooses the future. Man cannot determine future events - i.e. make sure they definitely will happen regardless of any adverse factors, foreseen or unforeseen - because he does not have the power to do so. Nor can he merely influence future events because - as with determining them - that implies a more or less direct, and inevitable, causal connection between his actions and their consequences, implying that nothing could ever have happened to prevent the consequence (in many cases it doesn't, but it remains true that it might have done). We never know for sure, although we might think we do, and certainly have a reasonable expectation, that our actions will have the desired consequence, therefore they might be more accurately described as attempts to do things rather than the actual achievement of those things, whatever they might seem to be. So although our actions do influence future events, and may be performed totally freely, it is not the future that is being chosen; rather, we are choosing to attempt to give the future a certain character. So we do only shape it, meaning that whatever we do will have a certain impact upon the course of events even if it is only slight, but may not prevent something as major as the destruction of all life in the universe, if accident or overwhelming odds thwart our efforts. The Doctor and his friends may do their very best to stop Sutekh but still fail.
God does not choose the future because for him to have a choice suggests he might have acted otherwise, in other words was uncertain, at least for a time, about what he should do; and that compromises his omnipotence. It is possible that aesthetic matters might be an exception to this (the only one); in aesthetics there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, only personal taste, and so any decision God made concerning them would with perfect justification be arbitrary, and also made after a period at least of uncertainty.

(5) The philosophy of history
What is history? Well, something can be history in two senses. It could be merely something that has happened in the past; and indeed, when we speak of the "history" of this or that we are not necessarily speaking of human beings (there is after all natural history, which begins well before the appearance of Man on the planet). Or it could be whatever happened to people (this is the sense in which it is usually spoken of). More particularly, history seems to be thought of as written accounts of events (though if there were some other kind of information that stood in for it that would be history too). It is acceptable to settle for this definition because without written (or produced on computer) documents a major source of knowledge would be eliminated to the extent that history as a subject would not really be possible to study. We could also confine the definition to anything that happened which was significant – materially, socially, culturally, politically or economically - in its impact on human affairs.
Recent political events may not be thought of as “history”; to exclude them from the definition is correct if it does not extend to anything which happened in the past, wrong if it does. Except in totalitarian states, where they are excluded it is not for political reasons but because it is deemed too soon for the informed, and therefore objective, assessment which ought to constitute historical study. The events are nonetheless history both in a mechanical sense and because of their significance; the issue is really whether they can be analysed in a disinterested way. Since it is possible to take an intelligent and balanced view of things which are happening at the present time – and that because the historian, at any rate, learns the lessons of history, and understands how past events have led us to where we are now – objectivity will not be an issue provided care is taken and it is conceded that a fully accurate analysis may have to wait until more information becomes available. It should of course be appreciated that historians may never agree on what is a fully accurate analysis anyway, purely because of the tendency of human beings to differ.
Why learn history? I remember it being described as daft by people doing other subjects at University. I think they saw its relevance as limited because it was to do not with things that remain fundamental features of our world, such as the principles of science or the basics of good English, but with those that happened in the past, and in worlds to which our own may now be so different that they cannot speak to us. History is of academic value without being instructive, interesting but not really useful. It’s made up of particular, if sometimes long-lasting and traumatic, incidents which tell us more about the person or persons, usually long dead, who did them than about the world in general (and to some extent this may actually be true). In reply I would say firstly that if something is purely a matter of giving intellectual pleasure then what’s wrong with that; all learning should be! The other objections seem plausible but on closer examination are not.
One very good reason for learning history is that we ought to respect our ancestors, and that means taking an interest in their cultural, technological, scientific and political achievements so we can give them due praise; for better or for worse, it was their actions which created the world we live in now. Where they got it right by making that world freer, healthier and perhaps more exciting than it otherwise would be, they certainly deserve congratulation and it would be immoral not to see that. Where they got it wrong we can (potentially) learn from their mistakes and so ensure those mistakes are not repeated. Where somebody did do something good by defending liberty and upholding noble principles, and showing courage and determination in doing so, like Churchill (despite reservations about his social policy) or Gladstone or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Simon Wiesenthal, they serve as a role model, an inspiration to do similarly good deeds in the future.
Knowledge of the past also reinforces our communal self-consciousness. We can remind ourselves that something is an essential part of us by appreciating that it has always been around, and for that you need the study of history. It is through knowledge of the behaviour of ourselves and others that we are able to function effectively as members of a society, and to form opinions. We need to observe events in order to explain and interpret them, and they mostly happen in the past; the future hasn't happened yet, and by the time you stop to think you're in the present it's gone.
The point is that any past incident is historically of importance for one reason or another. It is important either because it’s relevant to the particular historical subject one is studying, the Wars of the Roses or the life of Gladstone or Berkhamsted in the eighteenth century, by at least adding colour and detail, or because it contributes to the collective consciousness, our communal brain, by showing such things happened in the past (in other words, goes beyond the study of history in its relevance, but in doing so proves the very value of that discipline). E H Carr in What Is History? (1961), in asking what kind of historical (in the sense of occurring at a past time) event can be considered historically significant, takes two examples, a seller of gingerbread being kicked to death at Stalybridge, Lancashire, in 1850 by an angry mob as the result of a petty dispute (Carr p6) and the fact that King Alexander of Greece died from the bite of his pet monkey, which led to an infection (Carr p92). It is now thought the Stalybridge incident never actually took place, but we can still discuss what its importance would have been if it had.
In the context of a history of the particular locality in which the death occurred the first, undoubtedly sad, instance adds the necessary colour and detail; in the wider one, it helps to make clear that acts of violence are common to all periods of history and that we cannot claim that either a past or the present era is morally superior to others. We might point out that any similar incident would have the same effect; why pick this one? But if you say that about the first incident you would have to say it about all the others, which does away with the whole business of reinforcing our communal consciousness by studying the past. With the second example it is the same. Academically, in a history of Greece the particular manner of Alexander’s death is unimportant; the real interest lies in the political upheavals it caused, which resulted in the death of many thousands of people. But it does add flavour, and not in any inappropriate sense, by being an unusual way to go. Apart from that it warns us that monkey bites are potentially fatal, which is both zoologically interesting and, because we ought to take steps to avoid them, practically useful, the point of the lesson being assisted in its hammering home by the fact that it happened to a named person who was also, although probably now forgotten by most people outside Greece, a famous and important one.
The question is often raised of the “accidents” of history. If human affairs are the result of a combination of planning and accident (the latter involving people not knowing that the conditions resulting in a certain event have been or will be realised) then so too will history be. The broad trends of history are probably inevitable, the main one (I don’t know how many others there are) being that some civilisations progress towards scientific and technical advancement, creating it is hoped economic prosperity, or desire to, and by so doing unfortunately damage those less advanced, along with the natural environment, or come into conflict with one another in their attempts to grab as large a slice of the cake as possible. But the exact way in which things happen, and how, and who gets to do it are determined by “accident” (that is, someone dying, unexpectedly, at a relatively early stage of their life or happening to take a fancy to the shape of Cleopatra’s nose).
It needs to be emphasised that history is not progress in the sense of moral betterment, not overall (though it may be for individuals). As in so many other things there’s a sliding scale operating. People are not morally better now than they were in the past; the causes of evil and the way in which it is practised, and the issues over which people fight, are simply different (though even that isn’t always the case).
Dates, names and personalities matter in history because they are psychologically important. We need them in order to have terms of reference. A statement is a statement of a particular person, an action an action by that person; the two are inseparable and thus the mind cannot conceive of them independently. And again there is a benefit in terms of the communal consciousness and the moral guidelines which should govern society. In understanding the reasons why a historical figure did or didn’t do this or that, we learn how to judge people fairly and to appreciate the pressures they may be working under.
It is extremely comforting to learn that things which seem particularly frightening and depressing have always been going on (for often they have), even if the present-day world appears to be especially ghastly. You may also be able to exonerate a particular nation, race, social class, organisation or individual from criticism you may feel is unfair. If you can show that your subject had understandable reasons for what they did, or that others were just as bad, you will have made an important moral point as well as an academic one. The West, and particularly the Anglo-Saxon world, tends in our politically correct times to be frequently lambasted for its crimes against the rest of humanity; for its greed, cruelty, violence and prejudice. But if our past is rubbished, we lose our pride and thus our morale, and things like crime increase. This point of course applies not just to the West but to all humanity.
If, conversely, you think the extent to which we venerate the past dangerous or improper because of what happened in it and want to show that it was shabby and racist, that too will require you to be a historian. But we like to feel that we have done great things or at least had good excuses for doing shabby ones, and to work out if that is the case or not we need history. A proper, objective study of the past will show that no culture is morally inferior to another, rather that those which happen to be most powerful throw their weight around and so seem particularly perverse. Cruelty and injustice have occurred in other places than the West. Here a lesson is learned which by going beyond history as mere academic study, carried out for intellectual or other pleasure or just for the sake of it, has relevance to society as a whole.
It was often asked, before people like Hitler seemed to supply a moral imperative to be judgemental, whether a historian should seek to be a moral commentator on what they are writing about? A historian can and indeed should make moral judgements – I can’t help thinking that there would be awful consequences if the study of history were to be divorced from morality - but under certain guidelines. They must do judge sparingly, and the judgements they make must be fair. A historian is expected to be balanced and fair in their conclusions anyway, so we would expect their moral judgements to be balanced too. To say that Western people in the past often looked down on other cultures in a way that was at best patronising is a moral judgement; to say that the Holocaust proves the German people were more wicked than any other throughout history, or that Captain Cook’s treatment of the natives in Hawaii was gratuitously harsh when in fact he was probably suffering from a disease which affected his reasoning, is a bad moral judgement.
On the logical puzzle presented on pages 113-114 of the novelisation of the Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars (see above):

"Two Mummies had materialised in the darkness. "Intruders," a great voice boomed. "You face the twin guardians of Horus. One is programmed to deceive, the other points truly. These two switches control your fate - instant freedom or instant death. Before you choose you can ask one guardian one question. This is the riddle of the Osirians. Which is the guardian of life?"
The Doctor turned to the nearest guardian. "One question, eh? Now, if I were to ask your chum there, your fellow guardian, which was the switch that meant life - which one would he indicate?"
The guardian swung round and pointed to the switch on the Doctor's right.
"I see. So if you're the true guardian, that must be the death switch. And if you’re the automatic liar you’re trying to deceive me {the televised version says “confuse”, but the result might well have been the same}. So that must still be the death switch.” Hoping his logic was watertight, the Doctor pulled the switch on his left. The two guardians disappeared, and so did the glass bell surrounding Sarah."

If the automatic liar were trying to confuse the Doctor, he could do so either by a single or a double (or triple, quadruple, and so on) bluff. The Doctor has no way of knowing which tactic is being used. In the end he is simply lucky, as he has been in all manner of tricky situations during his career. It is noteworthy that he himself is not sure he has made the right decision.

(7) Precognition
This is pure speculation but I thought the subject worth mentioning. It is not possible, literally, to see the future because the future never exists - to exist it must become the present and thus cease to be the future - and what does not exist cannot logically be perceived, whether by the senses with which we are familiar or by some other means.
However if it is true that some things are inevitable then the sense of their certainty may result in a powerful psychic impression, an image of the event or object in question, that is so vivid it feels as if it is actually being perceived in the usual fashion. And then when the event, being inevitable, happens it looks as if someone has made an accurate prediction of the future. Perhaps the certainty in the mind of God - for He would know - of the event's occurrence somehow communicates itself to a person (not necessarily themselves a believer in Him). The knowledge occurs on the level of the universal mind, which those of a particular sensitivity are attuned to, so they predict the future event which, because it is inevitable, comes true and by doing so appears to justify belief in precognition.

Two things cannot be inside one another (like the Doctor’s TARDIS and the Master’s in The Time Monster and Logopolis). Either the one thing is inside the other, and not in any respect the other way round, or it isn’t. Anything else implies a mutual contradiction. If A is inside B then by definition it does not have the size or position in space which would enable B to be enclosed by it. Two contradictory propositions do not make one correct one.

For similar reasons the snake swallowing its tail and then the rest of it, or the two snakes swallowing each other’s tails and then each other, is ruled out. Again, there is a mutual contradiction cancelling out any chance of the suggested thing happening. In the second scenario, if one snake swallows the other then the other is not in a position to swallow it. There is no difference if the swallowing is mutual, and gradual (as I think is the idea), progressive rather than instantaneous, because as the process continued each snake would become increasingly damaged and increasingly unable to do the swallowing. Simultaneously each snake reduces equally the other’s capacity to swallow it, so it’s a bit like a man running on the spot – they’d never get anywhere. Besides, at each step along the way there would be the contradiction that one’s head is partly inside the other while at the same time the other’s is inside it’s; a physical impossibility. Additionally, where the snakes swallow each other the indication is that there is nothing left, and this would contravene the principle, both a logical and a purely scientific one, that matter cannot be created or destroyed.
For all the same reasons, the one snake cannot swallow itself either.