Skip to main content

The Dining Cryptographers' Problem

No, not the Dining Cryptographers Problem (that sounds rather too much like the sort of thing I should be writing about, now that I'm officially 'writing up'). Rather, I refer to a recent outing with the wonderful research group that is nurturing me through my PhD, the experience of which struck me profoundly enough to depart slightly from my 'usual' themes and turn temporary restaurant critic.

And so I give you: the 'all-you-can-eat' buffet. All the flavours of the world on one plate...and when you reach shiny ceramic - in that pause before you go up for more - a mirror to your soul. What a worthy service - forcing us to hold our appetites up against our actions, throwing into sharp relief a fundamental characteristic of the human condition: the stark contrast between what we want to do and what we do.

Of course, we all have our different battles, and perhaps it is just me after all…but every time I set out with the intention to ignore the invited challenge and instead go for the 'eat-all-I-would-like-to-eat' option. That is, at least stop when I stop enjoying it…And, every time, I fail. Normally, nowadays, by decreasing margins. But still, there remains that feeling of frustrated self-recrimination.

Paul devotes a big chunk of one of his letters to the bigger struggle of which this is symptomatic. To quote: "…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (See Romans 7 for more - including, eventually, the hope of some hope!)

And C. S. Lewis based a whole argument for God on the existence of objective moral law:
…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in  a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly,  that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
He develops this argument in the early chapters of 'Mere Christianity': it doesn't (to me) hold decisive weight as a 'proof' on its own (there seem rather too many other good explanations for the emergence of morality), but as part of a cumulative case it makes an awful lot of sense.

Perhaps Alvin Plantinga could add the 'Argument From All-You-Can-Eat' to his big old list of theistic arguments. Yes, I am being flippant and philosophically naive... but Plantinga, Lewis, and most especially Paul have said many things well worth investigating so if you're surfeited with my musings (or even -- dare I hope it -- if you're not) let me encourage you to check them out instead :-)


sounds like a serious thought. I totally agree and having had a not great weigh in today goes to show how true it is in my life too! (need to avoid set meals at Indian restaurants and all you can eat buffets!)
Oh dear - I *really* wasn't intending to pile food-related guilt on anyone (my comically clumsy childhood endeavour to learn ballet earned me the nickname 'fairy elephant' from my mum - which I now fear rather describes the way I have stomped all over such a potentially sensitive issue)…It wasn't really supposed to be about food at all, more that general frustration of being able to recognise the 'better' option and still not managing to choose it!

Popular posts from this blog

An autobiographical poem about walking on water

A decade ago, give or take – feeling at crisis point in my mental health and desperately socially disconnected – I "went up for prayer" at a church I was visiting. (I find it hard to do this at my own church when I feel desperately socially disconnected. It's hard enough even to be at my own church at such times). And the gentle, kindly woman who placed her hand on my shoulder and prayed some simple, general, healing words to suit my simple, general, hurting plea looked thoughtfully at me afterwards and said "just, if and when you can, keep taking each next step towards Jesus, whatever that looks like," or words to that effect. It seemed as good a plan as any, so I did. (Not instead of getting medical and professional help, I hasten to add; seeking out and receiving whatever support is available has always felt more like an action of faith than a compromise of it).

Since then, stepping towards Jesus has taken me (slowly, often painfully, and usually the long w…

The Sin of Onan

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (Genesis 38:6-10) According to Google's answer to what (let's face it) must be right up there among the most-asked questions since the invention of the search engine, this story is the closest the Bible comes to saying anything directly about masturbation.

And it isn't a story about masturbation. It's not even a story, not really, about birth control methods – although they feature. It's a story about the denial of ju…

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.  (T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land, part I: The Burial of the Dead,1922) These lines have lingered in my mind the past few days. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the years following the First World War, when the landscape of humanity seemed perhaps particularly stark and bleak. The poem resounds with disquiet and despair: all glimpsed respite turns out to be illusory or faltering; it seems improbable that any grounds for real hope exist at all. Eliot …