Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Accounting for truth

It is essential in running a business, public service or charity to have sound annual accounts reflecting financial reality. Only with these is it possible to effectively and fairly


  • Invest in research and development

  • Allocate money to loan repayment, shareholders, salaries and recruitment

  • Raise money from investors and donors

  • Buy materials, goods and services for the organisation

  • Distribute, sell and promote the outputs (e.g. clothes, energy or medical services)

  • Levy taxes

Trying to guide and take forward an organisation without good accounting is like driving in a fog.

Yet there seems to be a growing tendency to lose sight of this basic reality. Balance sheets, profit-and-loss accounts, cash flow statements and projections of these which accurately reflect the financial state of an organisation are, I suspect, but can’t prove, becoming less rigorous.  There is growing pressure from the financial derivates industry and financial journalists to make money or cut costs quickly to the exclusion of anything long term or intangible and this puts pressure on the company to make the accounts, including short term projections, look good  rather than reflect the real cost structure, business environment and sales trends. Even departments within a given company are constantly trying to hide information from the directors when things go wrong. Charities and public services are also subject to these pressures.


Not all distortions of financial truth derive from overt dishonesty. In the western world this is still mercifully rare (especially N Europe and N America). More insidious is the growing pressure for the individual to assert himself or herself, advance his or her career, make an impact, impress the boss, gain wealth for its own sake and status to impress his or her peers. It runs through secular society and conflicts with the ideals on which social and economic advances have been built: truthfulness, mutual trust throughout a hierarchy and recognition that there is a dimension to reality beyond the market economy or the models and equations of science and engineering. Not that the ideals were always followed in practice but they were at least recognised as ideals that it would be good to live up to - good for everyone. My fear is that the ideals themselves are beginning to disappear in a fog of self-obsession and postmodernism.


In other posts I’ve lamented the damage being done to science by those scientists who are oblivious to the epistemological limitations of science and fail to regard the search for truth as sacred within a  reality  greater than it can ever encompass. If peer-reviewed science loses its way it will have dire consequences for civilisation in the long term. But if people in the institutions of society, be they  wealth generating, or providing a tax- or charity-financed service, continue to lose respect for truth the effects could be more immediate as reality catches up with practice based on financial illusion.


The kinds of distortions I have referred to above are within conventional accounting systems used by chartered accountants. For instance, company X may be able to boost its share capital by transferring a capital appreciation such as a rise in value of a property owned by X, from the balance sheet to the profit-and-loss account. This would be dishonest and give an illusory picture of the profitability of X.


However, the accounting conventions themselves need to be revised because even when done with rigorous honesty they fail to reflect reality. When a factory producing small family saloons switches to manufacturing large 4x4 vehicles it is incurring extra costs which do not appear on any accounts. Material and energy have definite prices and can be quantified. What does not appear is the drain on resources which have always been regarded as free and limitless, such as air, water and minerals. These, and the destruction of them (e.g. in the case of air, carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere during manufacture of a car dwarf those produced by its operation over the lifetime of the vehicle)  are not easily quantifiable financially but there are definite moves in this direction.


Essentially what I’m trying to say is that to improve the real world we need to be realistic. Recognising reality depends on values not so highly venerated as they should be: honesty, integrity and devotion to the pursuit of truth. And given the importance of money to the functioning of society these values need to be fundamental to the ethos of chartered accountants.

Author 2077 AD
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Monday, 8 October 2012

The moral argument for God's existence

The structure of the argument is as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist

3. Therefore God exists.

 I am using Aristotle’s definition of God as ‘a first uncaused cause, intelligent, immaterial, eternal and most good being who is the source of order in the universe.’  ‘Objective’ means what is independent of people’s opinion, like the laws of physics. It must transcend all races, cultures, religions and situations. Moral value refers to the worth of a person or action, while moral duty refers to our obligation to act in a certain way.

 In a purely natural, materialistic universe, moral values and duties emerge simply to facilitate survival of the people in charge, whether they be rulers of the Third Reich or the elected politicians of a parliamentary democracy. They are not objective in any sense. What is right for one society is wrong for another. People within a given society can make up their own rules of right and wrong in defiance of the legally enshrined laws as long as they don’t get caught. In principle, nothing is ruled out – genocide, eugenics, rape, murder, greed, lust for power are not objectively wrong. It’s all just social convention, either forced by the ruling class or agreed by the majority for what they perceive to be their own individual or collective interest (e.g. give work  and purpose to the unemployed, as did Hitler in 1930s Germany).

In such a universe there is no reason to regard a human being as having any sacred value. He or she is valued only according to how useful he or she is to society, or to neighbours, friends and relatives. His or her life is worth no more than that of a blade of grass, a bacterium or a dog. All are the products or by-products of a purely mechanical evolutionary process in a pointless universe. The concept of morality is just an illusion manufactured by the brain, along with justice, love, truth and beauty. Even altruism is dismissed as an evolutionary device.  A philosophical materialist talking about morals is deluded if he thinks he has the authority to pronounce any of the Ten Commandments right or wrong. Which is not to say he can’t act morally. Most do; but they can’t do so without contradicting their godless worldview.

Neither are moral duties objective under this materialistic worldview. Animals do not have moral duties: animals kill for food but they don’t murder or act with gratuitous cruelty; neither are they expected to protect other animals with animal rights. On the naturalistic view animals are no different from humans other than by degree. If humans are not qualitatively different from animals there is no  qualitative difference between refraining from harming another human being and eating with bad table manners.

And yet we know this is not true. Objective moral values and duties do exist. We feel bad or apprehensive when transgressions occur: e.g. when a person is murdered or tortured.   We know this intuitively and they exist throughout humanity in all its manifestations. They are not illusions. So where does objective morality come from? It can only be God. It is God’s own nature which is good. It is from God that the commandments for living come and they flow out of his nature.

 Is moral behaviour restricted to believers in God? No. Moral behaviour does not require belief in God but it does require the existence of God to make any kind of sense.

I am no theologian but it is my understanding that in the case of Christianity at least Jesus specifically says that the Holy Spirit 'will convict/convince the (unbelieving) world concerning sin and righteousness'  See John 16:7-11.  And Romans 2:14-16 speaks of God's law being written on the hearts of gentiles (non-Jews). The non-believer who wilfully and knowingly rejects God, however good to his fellow man or woman, does, unfortunately,  commit a cosmically important sin, setting himself or herself up as judge and too proud to submit to his or her Creator, and therfeore at risk of submitting to a self-appointed god on Earth (e.g. the current leader of North Korea is one of thousands of examples that rear their heads through human history).

For an academic exposition on the existence of God by W.L.Craig (a brillliant Christian philosopher who is also an expert on cosmology, quantum mechanics and elementary particle physics) listen to the podcasts on this website. The students ask searching questions, ones which you may ask yourself, and he attempts to deal with them.

Author 2077 AD
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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The cosmological argument for God's existence

 In the previous post I tried to explain the ontological argument for the existence of God, as I understand it. Now for the cosmological argument.

In the beginning God created the
heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)
In the following, and in the coming posts on the moral and teleological arguments, I make no claims to original thinking. These arguments have been conceived and written about by Jews, Muslims and Christians for centuries.
 A web search will yield a large harvest and I do not have the academic credentials to recommend the most scholarly and reputable sources with any authority. If you contact me I will try to point you in the right direction so you can make your own investigations.

The following applies to the universe or multiverse in which we exist:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause


(2) The universe began to exist

(3) Therefore the universe has a cause

(4) A self existent uncaused being must be the first cause: God.


To deny premise (1) would be to say that an entity can come into existence without any cause. This defies reason.  

Something cannot come from nothing. Even elementary particles come from a fluctuating vacuum energy. Even empty space is something – space, along with time, were created by the Big Bang. If something can come from nothing then anything could come from nothing at any time – a flying spaghetti monster or a bag of peanuts could materialise from nothing. Could it be that the universe itself exists eternally and essentially? No, because nothing inside the universe exists eternally and essentially- everything we see, from a spark to a galaxy, has a cause.

God is by definition an uncaused first cause that is self existing from beyond space and time. The fact that there must be such a being says something about the transcendental nature of reality and the inner being of the humans created in God’s image. God cannot be observed, or investigated or communicated with by scientific methods.

Premise (2) can only be rejected if you believe that the universe is eternal; but eternity means an infinite amount of time. No quantity can be infinite in extent because infinity is merely a mathematical concept. Moreover, an eternal universe should by now be formless and chaotic because from the 2nd law of thermodynamics it should be in a state of maximum entropy. If that was the case we would not exist. See also Infinity, eternity and thermodynamics  and
Eternity and thermodynamics.

If premises (1) and (2) are valid the rest follows.

 G.W.Leibniz (1646-1716, co-inventor of the differential calculus with Isaac Newton)  advanced a similar argument, attempting to ask why anything exists at all. He concluded that it could only be God.

This does not tell us much about  the personhood of God. It does, however, say that a creative timeless, spaceless causative entity with a will does exist, since he/she/it made the decision to create the universe. 

Since we now know how fine tuned for life is this universe God must have had living beings as his ultimate objective.
For an academic exposition by W.L.Craig (a brillliant Christian philosopher who is also an expert on cosmology) on the existence of God to a class of students listen to the podcasts on this website. He deals with searching questions from the students.

Author, 2077 AD
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Monday, 1 October 2012

The ontological argument - on BBC radio!

As a listener to the BBC’s Radio 4 in the UK I recently heard a broadcast of In Our Time, an excellent series hosted by Melvyn Bragg, which examined the ontological argument for the existence of God. This argument was coined by St Anselm in the 11th century. It is a clever way of proving by logic that if one admits to the possibility of a maximally great god then that god must actually exist. This argument has stood the test of time, being supported and refined by Descartes, for instance, and in today’s world by the acclaimed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.


The media often seem to portray those with faith in God as people driven by wishful thinking, while atheists are heroes of reason and independently minded.  This belies the essential rationality of belief in a creator of reality to which one relates through faith, as opposed to one who denies the creation of reality and lives in a fog of illusion. We all need support to live fully, whether it is food or drink or air or God. Food, drink and air exist, so does God. A society that denies the reality of God ultimately destroys itself.


So to me, as one who believes that, ultimately, peace on earth cannot be realised without the peace of God, it is refreshing to find such a programme being broadcast on a mainstream channel.


There are other classic proofs of the existence of God, referred to as the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments (there are additional proofs but these are enough for me!). I find these easier to understand and more difficult to attack than the ontological argument, which seems to stand or fall on whether a maximally great god is a coherent and rational concept. Few would deny this. Even Dawkins seems to think that there is a small possibility of God existing. This means he cannot be an atheist, but is by definition an agnostic.


The ontological argument took me a long time ‘to get my head around’ but here it is in case you want to follow it:


/1/ A maximally great being, God, could, in principle, exist – one that is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.

/2/ A maximally great being is able to exist in all possible worlds or realities, otherwise it would not be maximally great. Note that all possible worlds would not include ones in which there were square circles or parents younger than their children. They all have to be feasible worlds.

/3/ The world we live in is one of those possible realities, therefore God exists.


The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) accepted the soundness of the onotological argument. His agnosticism was driven by emotion arising from the problem of apparently unjustified or unnecessary suffering. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) , the French philosopher, developed the argument in relation to the Christian concept of God.

 In their desperation to disprove its conclusion some have claimed that the argument could be applied to a maximally great unicorn. One would be proving that a unicorn existed in this reality, which is absurd. There must be something wrong with the argument.

However, this criticism is invalid. A maximally great unicorn is not an equivalent concept to a maximally great God. It lacks coherence. For example, a unicorn could not be omnipresent, otherwise it would not be a unicorn. By definition a unicorn would have to have finite dimensions and a shape. It could not exist simultaneously everywhere even in one world and still be a unicorn. Only parts of it would exist in any one place.


In future posts I will give the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments. They can all be found on the web or in books but should you wish to learn or revisit these arguments you may find it  convenient to have them gathered on this blog in concise form. And as one who has no training in, or even special aptitude for, philosophy, I would welcome the challenge of explaining them.


See also
The doctrine of chance

For an academic exposition on the existence of God by W.L.Craig (a brillliant Christian philosopher who is also an expert on cosmology, quantum mechanics and elementary particle physics) listen to the podcasts on this website. The students ask searching questions, ones which you may ask yourself, and he attempts to deal with them.
Or use the comments box below.