Saturday, December 16, 2006

Time Trouble

I was looking for some text to go with the cartoon on the left, so I decided to accompany it with an extract from a speculative book I started writing on the Genesis question several years ago entitled "Time Trouble". The extract below does not cover the meaning of Genesis 1, a matter I consider elsewhere. When I refer to “ten-four” creationists I mean those creationists who believe the universe to be no more than 10,000 years old. Here is my extract:

One author who is quite sure he knows exactly what Genesis 1 means is ten-four creationist Stuart Burgess. In his book "He made the Stars also" he writes:

".. the Bible teaches that the stars were created in an instant of time at the verbal command of God (Psalm 33:9). It is an awesome thought that God needed only to speak a word and billions upon billions of stars instantly appeared." (p15)
"... God supernaturally and instantaneously created the stars on the fourth day of creation" (p24)
"When we read of God's supernatural and instantaneous method of creation we must stand in awe of Him." (p34)
"When we consider God speaking the vast Universe of stars into existence, we can do nothing but stand in awe of Him"
(p34) (See also pages 46 & 48)

The role of instantaneity features strongly in this author's understanding of creation. There is, I believe, an ulterior reason for this emphasis, a reason favouring its continued survival. A belief in instantaneous creation effectively posits indivisible creation events making them less amenable to analysis, thus helping to fend off the apparently threatening advances of science by declaring the subject of creation to be off limits and therefore the exclusive domain of a fideist faith, a kind of safe area for irrational religious belief. But the concept of instantaneity is certainly not beyond analytical reflection and its logical and physical status can be probed. Viz: An event of absolute instantaneity would mean that no matter how far we zoom in on and magnify the interval immediately surrounding the event, its duration would always appear the same; that is, precisely zero. An instantaneous event is, to use a technical term, "scale invariant"; that is, under all magnifications it looks exactly the same, and never resolves to show any more detail than just a point on the time line. However, we do not know whether the physical time dimension can be indefinitely magnified in this way; like matter itself time may have a grainy atomic structure beyond which it is meaningless to talk of smaller intervals of time. If this is correct then there will exist a kind of "quantum of time" and apparently instantaneous events will have a duration that will not be less than this value. Moreover, if we take a putative instantaneous event like the transmutation of water into wine (in John 2), it is not at all clear what one would see if this event underwent the tremendous temporal magnifications I have in mind here. In fact this question may even be meaningless; reality may be akin to a kind of highly coherent computer simulation, and Divine manipulations of that reality may be of such an exotic nature as to render the very notion of time redundant for this kind of event. Whether these speculative considerations have any applicability at all is difficult to say, but the point is that instantaneity as a concept raises some highly technical issues. It therefore cannot be portrayed as a precept beyond analytical scrutiny, a kind hallowed altar round which simple rustic faithed Christians can gather away from profane intellectual musings. Another rather technical issue raised by the notion of instantaneous creation is the question of the whether God instantaneously creates physical conditions with bogus histories incorporated into their structure, an issue I will be dealing with in due course.

Our favourite stooge ten-four creationist and straw man, Stuart Burgess, is quite sure he knows the vital property distinguishing "natural" processes from "supernatural" action - it is of course instantaneity. In commenting on Proverbs 8:27-30 where we read about God invoking wisdom as the craftsman of creation Burgess concludes "God did not use evolution because a craftsman carries out instantaneous and deliberate actions whereas evolution involves a long random process" (see "He made the stars also", p31). Here Burgess contrasts the processes of evolution with what he feels are the instantaneous and deliberate acts of the craftsman. Leaving aside the question of Evolution, which we will consider in due course, we cannot but fail to notice that Burgess is wrong as anyone can be about the actions of a craftsman; they are certainly not instantaneous; if they were we might justifiably accuse the craftsmen of being a magician in league with Devil! In fact in some ways the work of the craftsman resembles the inconceivably more sophisticated work in the womb; that is, a stage by stage process moving incrementally closer to an end product as time progresses. These stages proceed against a background of inherent dependencies; e.g. a craftsman can't make a silver candlestick until some silver has been smelted and an embryo can't develop without a union of the appropriate genetic components not to mention the underlying organic chemistry fundamental to all living things. Of course, it is easy to claim that omnipotence could create in one grand slam instantaneous act a fully mature human, but the sequential dependencies I talk of here are conceptually fundamental. A silver candlestick depends on the existence of silver but silver is not obliged to exist in the form of a silver candlestick. Likewise, humans depend on a prerequisite organic chemistry which itself depends on more fundamental conditions such as the construction of atoms. There is a forced logical sequence here that we cannot escape from whether we believe in instantaneous creation or not. If God instantaneously created a mature object that would not detract from the fact that the object itself may have inherent sequences of logical dependencies.

Some concept of sequence, then, may be built into things no matter how they are arrived at. But the sequencing we see in embryo growth and artifact construction is much stronger than this "dependency" sequencing. Both processes pass through a series of stages separated by increments. Each stage is usually a little closer to the final product; although this is not necessarily true in the case of the craftsmen art where sometimes backtracking may occur, not unlike the trials and errors of evolution! But the fundamental aspect of both is the incremental separation between stages. The end product is the result of an accumulation of these incremental changes. The common theme is at least a quasi-continuity of change; you pass from one state to another through a series of intermediate states, thereby forming an incremental sequence of change. I would not, however, want to use the generic term "gradualism" here because some processes like, say, an explosion, is both incremental and yet very rapid. The key notion is one of at least an approximate continuity of change in as much as successive stages are only separated by relatively small displacements.
As I have said before, the religious obsession with a god who speaks into nothingness and makes things instantly appear, ready made, is very suggestive of a god of magic. In fact one thing is clear from Genesis 1: it is certainly not about instantaneous creation! I have to say that Stuart Burgess book, even by ten-four-creationist standards, is a very poor book. In fact at times it was such rubbish that I did wonder if it was a secular spoof that had been launched on an unsuspecting Christian public.