Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Playing with the Past

Are science and religion compatible? The received wisdom, I take it, is: "Sure, so long as the religion refrains from making any factual empirical claims." In other words, you may be a Christian, but not of the Young Earth Creationist variety... until now!
Consider the eternalist/presentist debate. The eternalist thinks there is a past time with dinosaurs, the presentist thinks there is only the present time, but that it is true at the present time that there were dinosaurs nevertheless. I think the creationist should hold that there are past times only six thousand years into the past, but that it is nevertheless true that prior to this such-and-such was going on. It’s true that there were apes who would evolve into humans; but nevertheless, there are no past apes who are our ancestors.

Trust a philosopher to suck all the empirical content out of a theory! Fun idea, though. Suppose we prefer the intuitive (if incoherent) "moving spotlight" theory of time. Could God create a world with a past that never was present? That is, the full historical timeline is created, but the spotlight of time gets set to start part way through, rather than right at the beginning. That way, perhaps the creationist could even grant that there "are" past apes who are our ancestors, but nevertheless insist that human evolution never really happened. (God skipped his divine spotlight over that unwelcome bit of history.)



  1. This sounds suspiciously like Descartes' solipsism of the moment, only on a grander scale.

  2. I wonder if the "recieved wisdom" is maybe not so wise. Christianity must be based on at least one fact. Jesus rose from the dead. If this fact isn't true, the whole thing sort of falls apart (1 Cor 15). It's even "empirical" in some sense, as it is in principle verifiable if you happened to have a time machine, or if you happen to run across His body. (This also depends on your definition of "empirical"...and my only resource at the moment is m-w.com.)

    As to God skipping his "divine spotlight", maybe...it sounds a little ad-hoc to me...but...

  3. Yeah, the idea that religion qua religion can't make factual empirical claims seems wrong. Some make the claim there there is no overlap of realms of assertion between religion and science. But I think that's just a cheap way of trying to reconcile the two. All it really does is take a large class of religious claims and say, "well those aren't *really* religious."

    I tend to agree with some critics of religion that many religious claims are empirical claims and they ought be investigated and tested as strongly as possible. I'd actually blogged about it relative to a recent Scientific American review.

  4. religion wins by claiming when they used the word "existed" they meant somthing a bit different from when you use it.


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