Monday, May 20, 2013

Going Back and Forth on Neo-Omphalos

In this post, I express some concerns that have made me doubt the viability of my Neo-Omphalos theory in the past, while then providing afterwards an update that responds to those concerns.

I've gone back and forth quite a bit over the past few years with my evaluation of my Neo-Omphalos theory (which you can read about here).  I've recently begun to think about it once again, and once again I seem to be finding some philosophical and Scriptural problems with it.  These are the same problems I've had with it in the past, but I keep going through cycles in which I decide that these are fatal problems to it, then I decide that they aren't, then I decide that they are, then I decide that they aren't, and so on.

My difficulties here make me very hesitant to be too dogmatic, so let me just state that:  I don't want to be dogmatic.  But I thought I would lay out what seem right now to me to be significant problems with the Neo-Omphalos theory.

In the Neo-Omphalos theory (NO, for short), when the space-time universe is created during the six-day creation week, a past history is created with it along with a present and an ongoing potential future.  And this is true with each object created during that week as well.  So, for example, when the sun is created on day four, it is created with a past history.  The problem with this is that the creation of an entire timeline would not itself be a temporal event on that timeline.  One can imagine a universe with its own timeline being created by events in another timeline.  That's what happens when people write novels, for instance.   There is a series of events--the writing of the novel--which produces a universe with a separate timeline.  But the writing of the novel is not a series of events that takes place within the timeline of the novel.  From the point of view of the characters in the novel, the writing of the novel is not a temporal series of events but is timeless.  That is, it takes place at no time within the timeline of the novel.

But Genesis describes a creation week that is a part of the history of this universe.  For example, the sun is created some time ago on a particular day, before which it didn't exist.  If we envision the sun being created with a past history attached to it, that is the same as to say that the bringing into being of the sun did not take place within the sun's own history.  From the sun's point of view, or from our history's point of view, the sun did not come into being on that day thousands of years ago.  It existed, perhaps, billions of years before that.  The event of the sun's creation would have to have been an event occurring in a separate timeline, in a separate space-time continuum.  But that is not what Genesis indicates.  According to Genesis, we can trace our own universe's history back to an event in our past in which the sun came into being, and that event occurred on day four of the creation week.  So it would seem that the NO view of the sun's creation (and the reasoning here would apply to all the other created objects and the entire universe as well) is incompatible with Genesis.

To make a similar point (or perhaps to put the same point in a slightly different way), if the sun was created with a past history, is it really meaningful to talk about the sun "coming into being" in that creation event?  Yes, we can talk about the sun "coming into being" in the sense that it was created as part of a "novel" in another timeline at a particular point of the creator's timeline (i.e. I wrote page 42, where the sun came into being, last Tuesday of my time, etc.).  But from the sun's point of view, it did not come into being on day four in our history.  It existed billions of years earlier.  The same object cannot have in its own history at the same time a "coming into being" event and a simple "continuing in being already existing" event.  The same object would then have to be and not be at the same time.  Again, the creation of the sun, in this context, would not actually be an event in the sun's own history, contrary to Genesis.

Going further, we can ask, How can it even be said at all that the creation of the sun took place at any particular moment in the sun's history in this view?  NO pictures the sun being created at a particular stage in its history, with a past behind it and a future ahead of it.  But if the sun was created along with its entire past timeline at the same time, then there seems no reason to single out a particular point in the sun's history and to link that point with the sun's coming into being in another timeline.  If the entire history of the sun comes into being in that creation event, then the time of that creation is no more linked to one particular moment in the sun's history than to any other, so to single out one particular moment as the point of the sun's creation doesn't seem to make any sense.

Another problem:  In the Genesis narrative, the sun is created on day four, but other parts of the universe are not yet created until days five and six.  But if the sun is created with its entire past history, that would include its being created with all of its relationships with the other objects of the universe intact.  Thus, we would have to say that from the sun's point of view on day four, the animals of days five and six would already have to be there, because their presence would be part of the sun's history that is essential to its nature.

Perhaps an analogy might help with this point:  I have heard it claimed that when George Lucas wrote Star Wars Episode IV, he did not yet intend for Darth Vader to be Luke's father.  That major plot element was not invented until Episode V.  So we could say that in our timeline, between the making of Episodes IV and V Luke's past history changed (along with many other things that were connected with it).  But once Episode V was produced, it became the case that the Luke of Episode IV did indeed have Darth Vader as his father.  So at that point you could say that we have two Lukes--the new Luke and the old Luke.  They are not the same Luke, because they had different past histories that are incompatible with each other.  Their essences were thus incompatible with each other.  So really what happened between Episode IV and Episode V (from the point of view of Lucas's timeline, not Luke's) is that a new Luke was substituted for the old one.  It would be incoherent to say that the same Luke's history changed--that Darth Vader didn't used to be Luke's father but later it became the case that he always was Luke's father.  Really, what we have is a new Luke who is different from the old one because of his past history, and this new Luke is the one everyone has in mind now when watching Episode IV (and thus Obi Wan Kenobi is still a liar).

To tie this back in with Genesis, the sun on day four would have to be a different sun than the sun on day five and day six and subsequently, because with the coming into being of the objects of days five and six along with their past histories, the past history of the sun also changed, making the later suns not the same in essence as the previous sun.  Difference logically entails distinction.  The same identical object cannot have contradictions in its essence.  As the essences of the suns of days four, five, and six are different (and incompatible), they are not the same identical object.  This would mean that the sun created on day four (if we can even talk about its having been created on day four, which we can't for reasons articulated earlier) is not the same sun that is in our sky today.  But this seems to contradict the point of Genesis 1, which is explaining to us the origins of the objects we know, not some other mostly similar but slightly different objects.

Of course, all of this becomes even more weird, complicated, and difficult when we include in our discussion all the other objects created on creation week, including animals and people!

So I don't think that NO is going to work after all.

But what about the certainly true elements in NO--particularly, the philosophical observations about the nature of time, that every moment in time implies a preceding moment?  Doesn't that necessitate us to have a situation where the creation of the space-time universe must involve the creation of a past, and thus involve us in the situation we've been attacking above?

No, I don't think it does.  It is true that it is certain that every moment in time implies a potential preceding moment, and thus that there can be no potential barrier in the past stopping someone in principle from going back further into time and discovering earlier history.  That reasoning is sound (and I have never seriously doubted it in all my vacillations on the other elements of NO).  However, remember our distinction between potential and actual history.  True, the past must be potentially infinite, but it can only actually be finite, because it is only perceived to a finite extent by any finite mind.  And space and time simply do not exist where they are not observed by finite minds, except as potential realities.  So what if God, wanting a self-contained narrative of creation history, created the world in such a way that the created universe is completely discontinuous with any potential previous history?  In this case, it would be impossible for us to ever push back into such a potential history, because the only way to infer the past from the present is to examine clues in the present, and this process implies causal and narrative continuity between the past and the present.  Thus, we could never look into the potential past, and since no one can see it, and since it has no bearing on the nature of the actual creation, it would simply not exist at all in any real sense.  In this case, we can think about the first moment of creation being the first moment perceived by finite created minds, and therefore we can say that before this moment there is no time.  There is no universe that precedes the creation.  Thus we preserve the fact of the theoretical potential infinity of the past while putting forward a strong claim that in no real sense is there an actually existing past before the first moment of creation.  This scenario seems entirely philosophically plausible to me (I've almost always thought so, even through all my vacillations on NO).  Assuming, then, that our critiques of NO above are accurate, it would seem that something like this scenario must be true.

So these are some problems I see now and have seen in the past with the NO theory.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I am very hesitant to be dogmatic one way or the other on these things, considering my tendency to vacillate on this subject.  Even before I started seriously to think negatively about NO again last night, I had already been considering my practical approach to the creation controversy.  I had decided that perhaps I ought to say that my own view is the more traditional YEC view, while presenting NO as a viable alternative.  Why would I then side my guess with the more classic view?  Because I suspect that mainstream science is wrong about the history of the earth.  Perhaps I was also influenced by growing subconscious concerns with NO along the lines of my above critique.  So perhaps what I will say at this point is that, while I don't want to be dogmatic, I am sorely troubled by NO, and so I will side with the more classic YEC view.  But I wish to present my viewpoint on all of this (or at least much of this) as tentative and about which I feel some subjective trepidation, and therefore I would encourage no one to take my word for anything and draw conclusions about what is true solely from it!  (Good advice in everything, actually, but I think it deserves special emphasis here.)  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some further editing on this subject going on on this blog in the future.  :-)  But that's enough for now.

UPDATE 6/1/13:  OK, so that didn't take too long.  I believe I have successfully answered the above objections, and thus NO appears once more to be viable.

My main concern above was that NO would have the six-day creation events be events that occurred in some other universe's timeline but not our own, while Genesis portrays the events as occurring in our history, in our universe's timeline.

But it is not the case that NO would have the creation events not be events in our timeline.  NO envisions the history of our universe to be the origin history recorded in Genesis.  The other past history comes in only as an implication of the nature of the universe created by those creation events (owing to the fact that temporality always extends potentially infinitely into the past).  While both the origin history and the other created history are real in their own spheres, in their relationship to each other we should see one as subordinate to the other.  It seems that God views the origin history as constituting the actual narrative history of our universe, while the created history is seen as simply an implication of the substance of things created in that origin history.  This doesn't make the created history fake, but it does put it on a different level.

If we imagine the created history and the origin history to be the same sort of thing, on the same level, neither subordinate to the other, we end up with "narratival incoherence" in the creation.  We would have to say, for example, that the sun both existed for billions of years and also did not exist for billions of years in the same sense, which would be a contradiction in its essence.  But NO, rightfully understood, does not say that the sun both existed and did not exist for billions of years in the same sense.  It says that there are two different kinds of histories--an origin history and a past implied history created as an implication of the things created by the origin history.  They are not the same thing.  The one is subordinate to the other, so that while both are real in their own spheres, the origin history should be considered the true narrative history while the created history should be considered an implied characteristic of created things when the two are placed side by side and compared with each other.  Therefore, there is no incoherence, because we can say that the sun experienced billions of years of history in its created history while not experiencing this in its origin history.  As the two histories are distinct elements of the sun's nature, differences between them do not amount to contradictions (much as Christ suffering in his human nature and being unable to suffer in his divine nature is not a contradiction because the divine nature and the human nature are distinct and work together in expressing the identity of the one person of Christ).

So, in short, NO tells us we should say that the sun, in its own history, was created a few thousand years ago on day four, while the nature of its essence (due to its temporality) implies a back-history built into its being and thus created along with it on the fourth day, a back-history which, though real in its own sphere and contributing significant elements to the sun's nature, yet compared to the origin history in Genesis is not itself a part of the actual narrative history but is a back-history attached on as an implication of the sun's substance.  I think this clears up the concerns of the objections raised in the initial post.  NO is consistent with Genesis because it agrees that the creation events are indeed the history of our universe and are on our timeline, while the back-story created history does not occur as events on that timeline except as implications of the things that do occur on it.  Also, there is no narratival incoherence between the two histories because they are distinct from each other, neither invading the space of the other but both existing complementarily with each other, both contributing elements to the essence of the created universe.

As for the idea that NO implies different suns at different times because the essences are different, this is solved by the above as well, because what we really have is the same sun, the single, non-contradictory essence of which is contributed to by both the origin and the created histories.  There is thus no more incompatibility between the various aspects of the sun in NO than between the past state of the sun and its present state in any normal accounting of the sun's history.  As the essence is not contradictory, we need not posit different entities.

In my initial post, I suggested that we could subsume the potential past of the universe into our creation theory without NO by positing that the creation events wiped out all continuity with that potential history before creation, thus making it completely non-existent.  However, I neglected to recall that no matter what you do, no matter what the nature of the creation events, there is going to be some kind of continuity between the events of pre-creation history and post-creation history.  This is because although space and time only exist in a finite point of view, yet it is always possible to say of any point in the past (including pre-creation potential history) that the universe exists in God's mind in such a way that, if translated into a finite point of view, that point in history will have certain definite characteristics.  Thus, we cannot avoid the fact that there is built in to any potential history before creation a definite character, and that character will affect the essential nature of the creation and its history.  That fact can be put to the side of our account of creation, but it can never be wholly obliterated, and thus it tends to come back and haunt one to find a better place for it in one's theory, thus contributing much to the tempting nature of NO.  If it is incoherent to say that an origin history creates a universe with an implied created back-history (and I have argued above that it is not), then this is an incoherence that is impossible to avoid without doing away with the idea of the creation of space-time altogether.  As long as time remains time, every moment will imply a preceding moment, and so any creation of time must necessarily result in some kind of past history of some definite character that will be a back-history to the ongoing created timeline.

Again, I don't want to be dogmatic.  It does occur to me, though, that the objectively safer route, considering my vacillations on this issue, is probably to avoid rejecting NO, even when I am somewhat troubled by it, until I am closer to being absolutely sure it is wrong.  There is less potential harm done by keeping as potentially viable a theory that turns out not to work in the end than by rejecting something that might turn out to be the truth without which all the data cannot be fitted together adequately.  So even if I again swing away from NO, I think I will be more hesitant to assume that I won't swing back again soon, unless the basis of my new swing is so strong that it overpowers this practical reasoning.  At any rate, for now, it seems that NO is back on the menu.


Riley said...

Could the sun have been created with a fictitious--not a true--history, like a novel? Just asking

Mark Hausam said...

If the sun has an appearance of a previous history, I think that this would be for God to have placed a fundamental falsehood into the nature of the creation unless there is some actual history in some sense that is connected to it, and I think that would be contrary to the nature of God. I'm going to write a blog post sometime soon articulating my reasoning on this sort of thing.