Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Creation and the Nature of Time - Or, the Neo-Omphalos Theory of Creation - Revised Version

The following is a paper I have written outlining a theory I call the "Neo-Omphalos" theory.  This theory suggests that when God created the universe, the universe that he created contained not only a present moving towards a future, but a past history as well.  I see the theory as following in the footsteps of the Omphalos hypothesis of Philip Gosse, but with a few different twists.

Note that I am not putting this theory forward with the claim that I believe that every bit of it is true.  I am convinced of the philosophical position it takes on the nature of time, but I do not make assertions regarding the rest of it.  I put it forward not as a definite assertion but as a possibility that is worth considering and that ought to be a part of the dialogue regarding the relationship of biblical history to the claims of mainstream science about the age and history of the earth and universe.

Also, I should note that I wrote this piece as a Protestant.  As a Protestant, I felt constrained to embrace a more literal six-day reading of Genesis as the only legitimate reading, and that is reflected in this paper.  Since becoming a Catholic, the exegetical possibilities open to me have increased.

THE PARADOXES OF SPACE AND TIME

Orthodox Christian theologians have typically seen the creation account in the book of Genesis as providing an account of the creation of the entire space-time universe, including the creation of space and time themselves. Although the Bible does not typically discuss space and time abstractly, and therefore does not address this issue directly in Genesis or really anywhere else, yet exegetically the orthodox case can be made by noting that the expressions used to describe what was created during the six days in both the Old and New Testaments are as universal as it is possible to get in biblical language--”The heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them,” “All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made.” I agree with the historic orthodox position on this point, and I will add more later on that will confirm it.

So the Genesis creation was the creation of the entire space-time universe, including space and time themselves. Since this is the case, it is important to our understanding of creation that we understand some things about the nature of space and time. What implications follow from the concept of space and time being created at a certain time in the past? I am going to argue that this is not as obvious and straightforward as a lot of people have assumed.

The concepts of space and time have been very confusing to philosophers throughout history, because these concepts seem to lead to irresolvable logical paradoxes. If the universe is a logical place, then all paradoxes must be theoretically resolvable. That is, they cannot finally be real paradoxes in the sense of actual contradictions. And yet if we think too deeply about the nature of time and space, we seem to be led inexorably towards actual contradictions. One of these paradoxes has to do with divisibility. Space and time are both matters of dimension or extension. The concept of “space” is about distance, length, height, etc. Space can be measured, and thus is can be divided into parts. The same is true of time. Hence we have centimeters, meters, kilometers, minutes, hours, days, years, and so on. All extended phenomena can be divided (at least theoretically) into parts. Because all material objects occupy space and time, all material objects are extended and thus can be theoretically divided both temporally and spatially. For example, the book sitting in front of me is spatially divisible--it can theoretically be divided into half, into thirds, etc. It is also temporally divisible, in that its existence through time can be divided into various moments--we can distinguish, for example, the book as it was two minutes ago from the way it is now.

The difficulty arises when we start to ask how far the divisibility of material objects, or spatial or temporal lengths or distances, can go. Of course, practically speaking, we can only divide things up so far; but theoretically, there is no stopping point. Every time I divide an extended object or length (let’s say I’m dividing it exactly in half), at the end of the process I will always have two equal parts on each side of my line or point of division. These parts will themselves possess length (half of the original length of the whole), and thus they too can be divided in half. Likewise, these new parts will be able to be divided in half, and apparently so on we could go forever. There can never be a time when we will run out of divisions, because every division must leave some length in the divided parts, which can then be again divided in half. This kind of observation is why many philosophers have spoken of material objects and space and time as infinitely divisible. So then, if the book in front of me is infinitely divisible, how big is the smallest piece that makes up the book? Well, it would be infinitely small; for if it was anything greater than infinitesimal, it would be able to be divided into smaller pieces and thus would not be the smallest piece. If a piece of this book has any dimension--say, length--left in it at all, it will still be divisible into smaller pieces and thus will not be the smallest piece. So my book must be ultimately made up of pieces that are infinitesimal, infinitely small, and which therefore possess no dimension at all. They are precisely zero centimeters (or millimeters, or anything else) long. And, of course, since every division in half produces two equally-sized pieces, and there are an infinite number of divisions, the book must be made up an infinite number of infinitely small pieces. OK, so where’s the problem? Well, if you think about it for a moment, the problem will show itself clearly. For one thing, what exactly is the nature of a piece of matter that possesses no dimension and that therefore takes up no space? Whatever it is, how can we call such a thing matter? A dimensionless object that takes up no space would be the same as no material object at all. For another thing, how many of these infinitely small pieces does it take to make up a book that is, say, about eight inches tall and six inches across? We have an infinite number of them available, so surely that will be enough, right? Well, how long is one of these infinitesimal pieces by itself? As we said, it is dimensionless, and so there is no length at all. How much length would we have if we put two of these pieces together? Well, zero plus zero is still zero; we would still have no length at all. What if we put three of them together, or four, or five, or six thousand, or six million? Obviously, the answer will be the same--there is no length at all. Even if we put an infinite number of such pieces together, we would still have zero length. But my book has length. So my book cannot be made up ultimately of pieces that have no length at all. So we have a situation where it seems both that my book must be made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal pieces (because of the infinite divisibility of extended objects and lengths) and also that it cannot be made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal pieces. That is a problem. How are we going to solve it?

Here’s another problem: How far back does time go? This universe is a temporal universe; time is one of its dimensions. Therefore the universe has a history. How far back does this history extend? Some people believe that the universe is eternal--that is, it never had a beginning; time has been going on forever. And yet this leads us to absurdity. If time has been going on forever, then, as of right now at this moment, an infinite amount of time has already passed in the history of the universe. But there is no way that the universe could have passed through an infinite amount of time, because it is inherently impossible by definition to traverse an infinite. If there are an infinite number of fence posts, how long will it be before I have walked by them all? I could never walk by them all, because it is a contradiction to the very nature of an infinite number of fence posts that I could ever walk by them all. If I could do so, then they would be by definition finite. Any distance I can travel must get me from point A to point B, and therefore must be a finite distance, not an infinite one. If time has been going on forever, then the universe has passed through an infinite number of, say, minutes. But, by definition, it is impossible that an infinite number of minutes has already been passed through. So it would seem that time cannot have been going on forever; it must have started at some moment in the past--say, 14 billion years ago (or whatever).

But now we have another problem. The very concept of a first moment in time is absurd, since every temporal moment implies a preceding moment. Let’s think about the nature of the very first minute. How long did it last? One minute, obviously. Did it come to an end? Of course it did; it came to an end after the minute was up. Did it begin? Of course; it began exactly one minute before it ended. But ending and beginning are events; and all events, by definition, must have a before, during, and after. For the first minute to have begun, there must have been a time before it began. Once, it had not yet begun, and then it began. If there was never a state of affairs before the first minute began, that would be the same as to say that the event of its beginning never took place. For the first minute to have begun is to say that it arose into being, implying that being was empty of it before. For an analogy, imagine the act of opening a door. “Opening a door” is an event that therefore must have a beginning, middle, and end. The act could not be complete unless we start out at a moment in time before I had begun to open the door--that is, when the door was still entirely closed. If we do not start out with the door closed, there is no temporal room for me to begin to open it. Likewise, if there were no time before the beginning of the first minute, there would be no temporal room for the first minute to begin, and yet beginning is essential to the concept of a temporal length such as a minute. Therefore there would have to have been a moment of time before the first minute. And that moment would have had to have been preceded by a preceding moment, and so on ad infinitum. Therefore there would have to have been an infinite number of minutes before the very first minute, which is of course absurd. Therefore, there could not have been a very first minute. Time could not have begun; it must have been going on forever. And now we see a second paradox: We have conclusive logical reasons to think both that time cannot have been going on forever and that it must have been going on forever. (By the way, the same paradox arises when we try to think about how far space extends as well; but for the sake of brevity, I will not go into that now.)

Paradoxes such as these have long been recognized by philosophers. Zeno, the ancient Greek philosopher, famously recounted a number of them, as reported by Aristotle. Immanuel Kant recounted some of them as well in his Critique of Pure Reason and used them to argue that the universe cannot be inherently ordered and logical; we must be imposing order by our own minds on an unordered chaos, the nature of which, since it is non-ordered and chaotic, we can thus know nothing at all about. Theologians trying to talk about the creation of the space-time universe have often run into particularly the latter paradox, although they have often tended to brush it off as a semantic issue. Theologians will often find themselves talking about “before the beginning or creation of time,” and then quickly apologize for the inadequacies of language that force them to speak in such absurd ways. But they have not often enough stopped to think about why they are forced to use such absurd language when talking about the creation of time. I would argue that it is more than an unimportant semantic issue. It points to the same very serious logical problems in understanding the nature of time that we have been talking about.

SOLVING THE PARADOXES

So how can we solve these paradoxes? There must be some way in which we can do so, or else we will be forced to conclude that the universe is inherently illogical. But, for reasons I don’t have time to go into now, we know that that itself would be an absurd conclusion and can’t be right. Some people would suggest this is simply too difficult a problem to solve for our limited minds, and thus it is not worth pursuing. Well, maybe; but the history of the human race is full of examples of people who have contributed greatly to humanity by continuing to try to do things that other people continually warned them was impossible. So we should prefer to check all possible options before we give up.

I think the answer is this: Extension and divisibility are fundamentally characteristics of a finite, a limited, point of view. If we think about the nature of extension for a moment, we can see that this is so. Whenever we have an extended object or an extended length (or any other dimension) in mind, we find that one of the essential characteristics of that extended object is that it is being viewed from some particular location. It is impossible to separate the concept of an extended distance from the idea of that distance being viewed from some particular, limited, point of view. For example, imagine a line that extends five inches. At one end of that line we have point A, and at the other end we have point B. Point A is in a different location from point B. They are a certain distance apart, which is how we can distinguish them. But notice that these points are in different locations not in some absolute sense but relative to your own viewpoint. That is, your viewpoint, which has you looking at our five-inch line from one possible vantage point, has created a grid in which that line, as well as point A and point B on that line, exists. Point A is in a different location from point B relative to the grid created by your own particular viewpoint. You can always imagine moving your viewpoint to view the line from a different perspective. If you view the line a certain way, point A and point B will appear in the same location. All of this will be true of any extended object or distance that you can see or imagine. The keyboard in front of me is (roughly) about eighteen inches across. The “A” key and the “L” key on the keyboard are in different places, not absolutely, but relative to my viewpoint. Our finite viewpoint provides a necessary ingredient to the very concept of two things being in two different places or being a certain distance from each other, which is the very essence of the concept of extension. I am going to draw a very interesting conclusion from this observation: Extendedness is a characteristic of the viewpoint of finite minds and therefore does not exist outside of the viewpoint of finite minds. Only finite minds, which view things in a limited way from one particular location among many possible locations, and thus can inherently only see a part of reality at a time, have the characteristics necessary to produce extendedness.

This observation, and this observation alone, can solve the paradoxes we discussed earlier. The problem of infinite divisibility arises because it seems that extended objects must be infinitely divisible, and yet it also seems that they can’t be infinitely divisible (since they cannot be made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal pieces, as infinite divisibility would imply). But divisibility is a product of extendedness. Without extendedness, there can be no divisibility. If extendedness can only exist in finite minds, then we can talk about something being potentially infinitely divisible without that something being actually infinitely divided. For example, the book in front of me is potentially infinitely divisible. That is, there is no theoretical point at which I would run into a lack of material to continue to divide. As we noted before, every time I divide, I have divisions that have dimension that can be divided again. And yet, although I will never run into a theoretical barrier to divide further, I never actually see the book in an infinitely divided state. That is, I never perceive in my mind an infinite number of divisions. It is inherently impossible for any mind to perceive an actual infinite number of divisions. Therefore, since extendedness and hence divisibility exist only in the viewpoint of finite minds, as we established a moment ago, since no one ever perceives an infinite number of divisions of my book, those infinite divisions of my book simply do not exist. My book is only ever as divided as some finite mind perceives it to be. Thus, we can say that my book is potentially infinitely divisible and yet is not actually infinitely divided. This allows us to solve the problem of infinite divisibility. The paradox arose because we were imagining that the extended nature of my book existed outside of any finite mind. If this were the case, it would imply that if my book is potentially infinitely divisible (which it must be, for the idea of running into a theoretical point at which there is nothing left to divide is absurd), then it must consist of an actual infinite number of divisions (since the divisions would go on even after they passed beyond the ability of finite minds to perceive them). But if extendedness and divisibility only exist in finite minds, then the potential infinite divisibility of my book would not imply that there is an actual infinite number of divisions. The paradox therefore disappears.

We can also apply the same observation to the other paradox we mentioned--the apparent problem that time cannot have been going on forever and yet seemingly must have been going on forever. The problem here arises because we observe that every moment in time inherently implies a preceding moment in time. This seems to lead to the conclusion that the timeline must extend back infinitely with an infinite number of divisible moments. And yet this can’t be the case, because then the universe would have had to have already traversed an infinite number of moments, which is inherently impossible. But, notice that time, like space, is a dimension that consists of extension (and hence divisibility). Thus, time, like space, only exists in finite minds. We can therefore say that the past is potentially infinite (since we could never find a theoretical first moment that is not preceded by a preceding moment) and yet that the past is actually finite (because any finite mind can only perceive a finite amount of time in the past or anywhere else). This resolves the paradox. The same thing can be applied to space as well. Space is potentially infinite--in the sense that we could never run into a barrier at which space ends--and yet it is actually finite because only finite distances are perceived by finite minds..1  The picture that emerges here is that space and time, consisting of extendedness, are not absolute, but are to be seen as extending out in all directions with potential infinity but actual finitude from a central location which would be some particular finite point of view. However unusual such an idea of time and space is, I think it is the only view that makes sense as we consider the nature of space and time themselves and as we try to solve the paradoxes that philosophers through history have pointed out.2

THE TRUE NATURE OF SPACE AND TIME AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR BIBLICAL CREATION

Now, let’s apply this concept of space and time to the concept of the creation of the space-time universe as described in Genesis. Orthodox Christian theologians have tended to view the space-time universe as if it were an object that exists absolutely, outside of any particular finite mind. They have also often failed to notice the potentially infinite nature of both time and space. In attempting to escape the absurdities of an actual infinite, they have not noticed the potential infinity of space and time. This is understandable, since if we think of the space-time universe as existing outside of finite minds, potential infinity must imply actual infinity. But now that we see that space and time exist only in finite minds, we need no longer make that mistake. We can recognize without absurdity the potentially infinite nature of space and time. Particularly, we can recognize that the concept of a first moment in time (theoretically speaking) is inherently absurd. Orthodox theologians have often assumed that since the creation account in Genesis describes particular events that took place at some particular time in the past, and since the creation account is an account of the creation of the entire space-time universe, including space and time themselves, then the creation of time must imply that time has a first moment. That is, they have tended to imagine that the first event of creation is the same as the first moment of time. So that moment would have a present (itself) as well as a future, but no past. Time began with the events of the first chapter of Genesis, and there is thus no past before that point.

Our understanding of the potentially infinite nature of time, however, will give us a significantly different view of the implications of the Genesis account. Since time must be inherently unbounded in terms of past and future, the creation of time will be the creation of an entire timeline that will (at least potentially) have a present, a future, and a past. In other words, if the Genesis creation account is giving us an account of the creation of the space-time universe as a whole, then that implies that during those six days of creation a few thousand years ago, God created an entire timeline that included not only a present and a potential future, but a past as well. In the Genesis account, we have presented to us the origin and beginning of this universe we inhabit, with the sun, moon, stars, water, land, animals, etc. Woven throughout the very nature of this universe and all its objects is extendedness, which exists only in finite minds. Thus, the creation of the space-time universe was the creation of a finite point of view and all that it contained, a finite point of view out from which space and time extended with potential infinity but actual finitude in all directions (including, with regard to time, both into the future and into the past). In the past few centuries, we humans have been startled to find out how immense the universe is. To use Carl Sagan’s famous language, our planet earth is a “pale blue dot” in the midst of immense distances containing innumerable stars and galaxies, in a space which continues to stretch out from us no matter how far we look. We’ve been surprised by this, but we shouldn’t have been. Space, by its very nature, must be inherently potentially unbounded. God’s creation must extend out from us indefinitely. Time, likewise, must be inherently unbounded in both directions (past and future). Thus, just as we should not have been surprised to find out that God’s creation extends out with such immensity into space, so we should not be surprised to find that it extends back indefinitely into the past. This potentially infinite past is not at all contradicted by the Genesis account of creation, but is rather implied by it when we use our minds and think philosophically about the nature of what God has told us he created.

In short, the six-day creation, which took place a few thousand years ago, since it was the creation of the entire space-time universe, implies not that the temporal universe is only a few thousand years old, but rather that it is indefinitely old. The creation event could not have been an event at the beginning of the timeline of history, without any past, for such a thing contradicts the very nature of that which God created. Rather, the creation event, by creating a potentially unbounded timeline, must necessarily place itself in the very middle of that unbounded timeline, with a past as far behind it as the future extends ahead of it. The creation event, since it involves the creation of a space-time extended universe with space-time extended objects, would be the creation of a finite point of view, a center point out from which all the universe extends in all possible directions. Nothing in this scenario contradicts a straightforward reading of the Genesis account; rather, it is necessarily implied by it if we assume that it is the creation of the entire space-time universe. The reason it has not appeared so to many is because of a lack of understanding of certain crucial features of the nature of space and time.

WHAT OF THE SIX DAYS?

What we have so far observed tells us that the space-time universe God created must be inherently unbounded in terms of both space and time, and thus that the universe, considered in terms of its theoretical potentiality--that is, considered in terms of how far back we could theoretically go if we, say, possessed a time machine--is not young but indefinitely old. However, there are other questions we need answers to in order to fully work out the relationship of the Genesis creation account to the indefinite past of the universe. In Genesis 1, we learn that the universe was created in the space of six days. How do the events of the six days relate to the creation of time itself? Perhaps there are two ways we could understand this relationship. We could see time as having been created at the very beginning of the first day, and then the subsequent events of the six days would have been normal temporal events occurring within the newly created timeline. If this is the case, then if we went back to explore the indefinite past with our time machine, we would come eventually to the events of the six days; and if we then went beyond those six days to the time before, we would find either a totally empty universe, where time is going by but there is really nothing there except space and time, or a universe that is not totally empty but is completely different from the universe we know--it would not have planets, stars, life, etc., because all of these things wouldn’t arise until the six days of creation. As far as the text itself is concerned, this is probably a possibility. However, it seems odd that the past which God created during the six-day creation event would be so out of accord with the rest of the universe. Whenever we explore new areas of God’s universe, we don’t find radical discontinuity but rather continuity with the universe we have already known. As we explore further into space, we find more and more stars and galaxies, and phenomena that are very much related to what we find closer to home. When we look into the microscopic world, we find continuity with our larger view of the universe. We find differences, no doubt, but differences that are in fundamental natural continuity with the universe as we typically see it. It would seem odd, then, if when we look back into time before the six days, we find a universe fundamentally discontinuous with the universe we know; it would be especially odd if we found an empty universe of bare space and time extending back indefinitely.

But there is another exegetical possibility. It may be that all the events within the entire six-day creation account are part of the creation of the entire space-time universe, including its past timeline. That is, instead of seeing only the bare space-time universe itself as being created with a past history, we could see all the furnishings and objects of the universe being created with past histories as well, as part of an overall coherent universe. So, for example, when the sun was created on day four, it was not only a present and a future of the sun that was created, but a past as well. In this case, we could see the creation events of the six days as putting together an entire completed, furnished universe in the present with an implied past and future. We know that when God created the structures and entities of the universe during the six days, he did not create them merely with a present--a fleeting moment, after which they would disappear. Rather, he created them with an implied future. Again, to use the sun as an example, the sun was not created as a static entity existing in a frozen unchanging present, but rather as a dynamic temporal entity undergoing processes of change through time, moving through space, burning fuel, giving off radiation, etc. It was created with a natural trajectory for its future. I am suggesting that perhaps it, along with all the other entities of the creation, was created with a natural history as well, a trajectory of natural change extending back into the past as well as into the future. This would seem very consistent with the nature of the created entities as temporal entities in a temporal universe.

If we look at the six-day creation event in this way, we would see it as a logical, historical process of creation--lasting six days--which constituted the construction of an entire space-time universe, including its present, past, and future. The creation event could be in some ways compared to the process of setting up a stage play. The set-up process itself is a temporal process, but what it produces is a temporal moment with an implied past as well as future. For example, let’s say a stage is set up for the play Hamlet. The set-up workers create the setting of a platform outside Elsinore castle, and the actors portraying the sentinels and Horatio take their places. The play then begins. Now, you could say that the setting here has two histories: It has the history of the set-up of the stage which took place perhaps a few hours beforehand; but it also has the history implied in the story, with the death of the old king, and so on. The set-up process produced a temporal moment with an implied past as well as future. Of course, the creation event would be different than the play scenario in that the whole thing would be real. There were no actors, only real beings. And the past would not merely be a pretended past but a real past. And yet that past would have been brought into existence by a creation process which created the universe in a present state with an implied history and future.

This scenario is entirely exegetically possible. Nothing in the text of Genesis (or any other biblical text) contradicts or opposes it. Certainly, the idea that the universe had a created history as well as a future is not mentioned in the biblical text, but then the Bible’s history is notorious for focusing only on those things of immediate interest to its point. We get no account of the immensity of space, the existence of bacteria or magnetic fields, the creation or existence of angels, or a number of other things which we might be interested to hear about. Why do we not hear, for example, that the sun is a large ball of burning gases millions of miles away? The Genesis account does not affirm any of the mythological notions common in many creation stories of this time period, thus evidencing its authenticity, but it does not discuss the true nature of the sun either. Why not? I would suggest two plausible reasons. First, because the nature of the sun was unknown to people throughout much of history and therefore would have been immensely confusing to most people who have had the Bible through history. Secondly, the exact nature of the sun is beside the point of the account, which is not intended to provide a scientific encyclopedia on natural phenomena but merely a basic, straightforward narrative of the very basic flow of God’s creative activities. I would suggest a similar answer as to why the Bible did not mention the created past of the universe if such a thing was indeed created. It is very dangerous to make arguments from silence when doing biblical exegesis, particularly when one is speculating on a subject that is clearly beyond the intended scope of the narrative.

Since it is possible that the specific entities of creation, along with space and time themselves, were created with a past as well as a future, we cannot conclude from the fact that the creation event took place in six days a few thousand years ago that the universe or anything in it is therefore young (in the sense of only thousands of years old). We know by the very nature of space and time that the universe as a whole must be indefinitely old, and the same might just as well be true for the different objects that inhabit it and furnish it. Therefore, we can conclude that there is no necessary contradiction between the ideas of mainstream science about the antiquity of the earth, solar system, and universe, and the biblical account of creation (as interpreted by six-day creationists). I do not claim to know whether or not mainstream science’s account is in fact true, but I can say from what we have observed thus far that it is not contradictory to the six-day account. Typically, people who hold to an old earth reject the six-day reading of Scripture, and the young-earth creationists likewise reject the concept of an old earth. The assumption of both groups is that both of these ideas cannot be true. And yet, on our current theory, we see that these ideas are in fact not contradictory at all.

THE FALLENNESS OF THE PAST

However, there is another aspect of the past history of our planet as mainstream science understands it that does seem contradictory to the Genesis account of creation. How do we know about past life millions of years ago, according to the mainstream scientific account? We know about it through fossils to a great extent. And what are fossils? The remains or impressions of dead plants and animals. And yet in a young-earth reading of the Genesis account, death, both in the human and in the animal world, entered into the creation at the Fall, which was an event subsequent to the six days of creation. That means that if we were to look back at the past before the six days, we should not find signs of death; and yet clearly fossils are signs of death. I think that the young earth reading of Genesis is right on this point as well--the Fall was the source of sin and death, and there should thus be no death before the Fall. Therefore, it seems that we do have a contradiction between the mainstream scientific account of earth’s history and the biblical account. Some have tried to solve this by suggesting that the effects of the Fall reach back into the past, but I find this highly unlikely. God’s designation of the creation as “very good” before the Fall, compared with Paul’s description of the current creation as “groaning,” waiting for liberation when the sons of God are liberated from the effects of sin, seems to suggest that the pre-Fall creation was in a state that was entirely pleasing to God. Of course, there is a sense in which all states and events, good as well as evil, that exist or occur in the creation are “very good” because they are used by God to advance his good purposes. However, evil and suffering in themselves--that is, in their own nature, distinguished from their contribution to an overall greater good--are clearly displeasing to God. The Bible indicates that this is so--Paul’s negative language about the creation groaning, subject to decay, that we’ve already mentioned, God’s statement that he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, etc.--and so does natural revelation. Philosophically, I think a conclusive case can be made that God must by nature hate the suffering and love the happiness of all beings. If all the experiences of all beings are included in God’s own experience--as must be the case if God is omniscient in the classic sense--then God would have a foundation for infinite sympathy and empathy in his nature. It would be psychologically impossible for God to love the misery of other beings in itself considered, because he would be loving his own misery in doing so. In addition to these arguments, we could add the change of diet ordered by God after the Fall. Before the Fall, both humans and animals were given plants to eat, but after the Flood they were given animal flesh as well. This is best read as indicating that there was a lack of carnivorousness at least before the Fall, which would fit in with our overall picture that the pre-Fall world would not contain death and suffering. Certainly more would need to be said here to establish fully this point, but as I am assuming the basic young-earth creationist position, I will not linger on trying to prove this any longer at this time. The question then is this: Is it possible to reconcile a mainstream scientific account of the history of the world, with its millions of years of death and suffering, with the biblical account that indicates a complete lack of death and suffering before the Fall? If we can’t do this, then we will still have to conclude that the biblical account contradicts the mainstream scientific view of an old earth.

What if the millions of years of earth history which contained suffering and death were not pre-Fall, but post-Fall? I think it would be absurd to suggest that the Fall, and thus the six days of creation, occurred millions of years ago, before the first animal death occurred. That would put the Fall before the advent of man on the earth in the established mainstream scientific timeline, which would obviously be impossible. But what if the Fall of man had cosmic dimensions, not merely causing human beings to become sinful, but altering the very nature of creation? Remember, the creation is the creation of a finite point of view. That point of view seems to be closely related to the point of view of the human race. There is no doubt that human history--rather than, say, crab history--is of primary importance in God’s purposes in the history of the universe. If the creation itself is inherently tied to man’s point of view, then a change in man’s basic relationship to God might bring along with it a basic change in the nature of the creation that surrounds man and functions as his environment. As a matter of fact, the Bible confirms that this is in fact the case. As we noted earlier, there seems to have been no animal death before the Fall. But after man’s Fall, there is plenty of it! The entire animal world is woven through and through with death. Death and suffering are involved in the most intricate aspects of the system of the animal world. Some people have actually used the seeming inseparability of suffering and death from the world of nature as an argument against the idea that there was no suffering and death before the Fall, because they recognize what a dramatic change in the fundamental nature of nature would be implied by going from a world without suffering and death to a world with them. It would be a dramatic change indeed, a very fundamental change--but that is exactly what the Genesis account seems to be suggesting. It is also very interesting to note that Paul ties the redemption of the human race together with the redemption of the rest of the creation. He describes the creation as being in a state of decay and groaning until it is liberated in the liberation of the children of God (Romans 8:19-22). So it is clear that man’s state is indeed tied to the fundamental state of the creation itself.

If this is the case, then we should see the Fall as having not just local or immediate but rather cosmic consequences, altering the fundamental nature of creation. Since creation is a unified system of parts extending through space and time, could it be that the Fall affected not just the present and the future of the creation but its past as well? Could it be the case that along with the Fall, a new state of creation emerged, complete with new natural laws and tendencies extending into its future and into its past? For example, if lions were fundamentally altered by the Fall, this alteration would have led to a different trajectory for lion-kind as it reproduced into the future, and it very well might also have led to a different trajectory for lion-kind extending back into the past. If this line of thinking is correct, then if we were now to take our time machine back into the distant past (following the flow of the timeline as it has been corrupted by the Fall), we would find not an unfallen world, but one with a history of suffering and death, at least as far back as we find life. Thus, the millions of years of fallen history proclaimed by mainstream science would not be contradictory to the biblical account. That history would not be pre-Fall in its basic nature, but post-Fall. Just as the pre-creation history would be a product of the six-day creation, so the fallenness of that history would be a product of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The entire creation--past, present, and future--was “very good” before the Fall, but afterwards the entire creation--past, present, and future--became subject to groaning in the bondage to decay.

INCORPORATING NOAH'S FLOOD

The Genesis narrative gives us one more very interesting element that we can add to our theory on this point. Once we accept that the Fall altered the fundamental nature of creation, it becomes apparent that the biblical narrative gives us an indication that this alteration didn’t take place--or at least not all of it took place--immediately after the Fall. People began to die immediately after the Fall, but life-spans were still incredibly long. There was no immediate change in God’s dietary regulations after the Fall. Rather, many changes had to wait until another event occurred, a large-scale event that reshaped the basic structure of the earth: The Flood of Noah.

One thing that becomes very noteworthy as we study the account of Noah’s Flood is that it is portrayed in language reminiscent of creation. The entire Flood and its aftermath is portrayed as a giant de-creation and re-creation event. One of the main events in the original six-day creation was the removal of the water from covering the dry ground which took place on day three. Throughout the Bible, the imagery of water covering the land is used as an image of chaos that existed before the ordering events of the creation. Therefore, the sea comes to stand frequently for disorder and chaos, and floods are used as images of de-creation. This is definitely the case especially with the Flood of Noah. God presents the Flood as a reversal of creation. “I will destroy every living thing that I have made on the face of the earth, for I am sorry that I have made them.” After the Flood, we start out with a situation very reminiscent of Adam and Eve and the initially created animals and plants at the end of the six days of creation. This reminiscence is clearly intended by the biblical text, for we see Noah and his sons being told to “be fruitful and multiply” and to thus repopulate the earth. This is a new beginning. The world has been de-created and re-created. However, the newly created world is significantly different from the old world. Noah and his sons are given dietary regulations, just as Adam and Eve were during the original six-day creation event. But this time, man is told that he can eat meat along with the “green herb.” Also, unlike the immortality that was the condition of man at the end of the six days, now it is said that their days will be typically no more than around one hundred and twenty years. Why? Because “man’s imagination is [still] wicked from his youth.” The Flood has not changed the fallen nature of man. The newly re-created world is not the reversal of the Fall; rather, it seems to be a new start for the world which takes into account the permanent (at least until the end of the world) fallen state of the creation. The rest of the Bible confirms this reading of the Flood as a creation event. Both Jesus and Peter, for example, in the New Testament, compare the Flood to the future destruction of the world and the creation of a “new heavens and a new earth.”

If the Flood was indeed a de-creation and re-creation event, this is probably the event to which we can attribute the most radical cosmic changes to the creation that were entailed by the Fall. The Flood can be seen as the location of the biggest chunk of the working out of the Fall’s implications for the fundamental state of the entire creation. Therefore, if the Fall brought about a fundamental change in the nature of creation--including its present, future, and past--then the Flood is the most likely source of the most dramatic implementation of that change. If this is correct, then the Flood should not be seen as an ordinary event--just like any other Flood, except on a larger scale. It was instead a fundamentally supernatural event, a creation event; and the effects of it would not be the normal effects of a natural Flood, but rather a supernatural restructuring of the cosmos--perhaps in terms of present, future, and past--to match a new fallen set of conditions. If this is the case, then Flood geologists have taken a completely wrong turn in trying to analyze the Flood as if it were simply a large-scale natural event with natural results, looking for evidence of such a natural event. Analyzing the Flood in this way would be like trying to figure out what chemical properties were in the saliva that Jesus used to cure the blind man which aided in that healing process, or like trying to figure out where the loaves and fishes came from that Jesus used to feed the five thousand. These are supernatural events, and therefore only confusion can come from reading them as if they were following the normal operations of natural laws. It might be argued that a flood--even a large, worldwide flood--could not have altered the basic nature of the cosmos, and certainly could not have altered the nature of the past. Well, of course it is true that a normal flood could not do this--just as normal saliva mixed with dirt could not have cured a blind man, and twelve loaves and fishes could not have fed five thousand. That is precisely the point. I am suggesting that the Flood may not have been a normal natural event, but rather a supernatural event. And like many supernatural events recorded in the Bible, God used natural means (saliva, fish and bread, the dust that Moses threw into the air to make gnats) in the production of supernatural results. It is interesting to note that mainstream science is united in the claim that there is no evidence that there ever was a worldwide flood. But if the Flood was a supernatural creation event, we would not expect to find evidence of a natural worldwide flood. The effects of a supernatural flood which God used to fundamentally alter the creation--including its past--into a new fallen shape would rather have the effect of producing a new consistently fallen state of creation with evidence of a long past involving fallen elements such as suffering and death. And that is precisely what mainstream science says we find when looking at the nature of the world and the evidence of its history. I find it interesting that the Bible itself seems to portray the Flood as a de-creation and re-creation event, re-structuring the cosmos into a consistently fallen condition, which in our theory might imply that it reshaped the past into a fallen condition as well. Thus, our current theory, combined with the exegetical evidence from a study of the Genesis account of creation, Fall, and Flood, would predict these two things: 1. We should find evidence of a fallen history stretching back into the indefinite past. 2. We should not find that the Flood left behind the sort of evidence that would be left behind by a worldwide natural flood. Both of these predictions are confirmed by mainstream science.

DID PROCHRONIC HISTORY REALLY OCCUR?

In this theory, the creation of the space-time universe was a series of events that took place in the past.  These events are described in Genesis 1-11.  They include the six days, the account of the Fall, the Flood of Noah, the Tower of Babel, and in general all the events of Genesis 1-11.  The events of Genesis 1-11 differ from what follows in Genesis (and in the rest of biblical history) because they describe the various events involved in the coming into being of the present general state of the created universe.  As we have seen, the idea of God creating the world involves the idea of God creating a finite viewpoint in which space and time are actualized.  This finite viewpoint seems to be particularly a human viewpoint, although this need not mean that it is identical to the viewpoint of any particular human individual.  Humans are the focal point of the creation and it is within the story of the human race that God carries out his purposes for history.  The universe began to be created five days before Adam and Eve were created on day six of the creation week; but even though there were no humans during those first five days, the creation was building up to them, and they were the pinnacle of what was being created.  This is why the creation of the universe during all of the six days takes place from a human vantage point.  For example, why is the earth created on day one (and then further organized on days two and three), while the sun and stars aren't created until day four?  If you look at it in one way, this appears very strange, considering that the earth is a very, very small speck in a gigantic universe.  That which was created on day four astonishingly dwarfs that which was created in the first three days.  Wouldn't it have made more sense to have created the stars first, then the sun, and then the earth?  Perhaps so, if we are imagining the creating taking place from the vantage point of someone somewhere out in the universe far away from the earth.  But God creates the world from the vantage point of someone standing on the earth, and thus the earth is formed first and then things are formed around it.  This is because creation was the creation of a finite point of view, and that point of view was the point of view of the finite beings that are humans.  (This also explains why the six days don't provide a separate niche for things like subatomic particles or bacteria--these entities were not a part of the immediate and early experiences of human beings.)  These same observations apply to the rest of the events of Genesis 1-11 as well.

The beginning of this general, human finite viewpoint, starting on day one of the creation week, constitutes the beginning of what Philip Gosse (the author of the book Omphalos, from which the name of our theory comes; I will speak about him more below) called "diachronic" history.  Gosse distinguished "diachronic" from "prochronic" history.  "Diachronic" history is history as commencing with creation and including all subsequent events in the created timeline.  "Prochronic" history refers to the potentially infinite back story necessarily created by the creation of time, as discussed earlier.

Both prochronic and diachronic history are real.  Neither is an illusion.  And yet they have different functions in relationship to each other.  Diachronic history is the actual story of history, the finite narrative in which the drama of history is carried out from beginning to end.  Prochronic history exists as a back story attached to diachronic history, conceptually implied by the existence of diachronic history but not actually occurring within diachronic history (much as most novels have an implied back story which is never narrated within the novel itself but is attached to the narrative as being conceptually implied by it).

Since it is tied into the creation as part of its nature, the definite form of prochronic history will leave marks in the nature and essence of diachronic history.  So, for example, if we find dinosaur fossils in the ground dating back to 70 million years ago, these fossils are there and have the form that they have not for no reason, but because they are the logical implication of certain aspects of prochronic history.  So, on the one hand, we do not say that the dinosaur lived in diachronic history, for it lived only in prochronic history.  However, on the other hand, we do not say that the fossils were planted in the ground as a deceptive appearance corresponding to nothing real.  They do correspond to something real--they correspond to the definite events of prochronic history, and their nature is determined not arbitrarily but by the logical relationship that exists between themselves and certain prochronic events.  This is why we have an account of diachronic history in Genesis, while mainstream science (that is, the historical sciences such as paleontology) only tells us about the prochronic history.  Genesis 1-11 is God's eye-witness account of the creation events that began diachronic history, while the natural sciences can't actually go back and see what happened in the past.  They can only examine clues embedded in the universe and try to infer from them some past historical narrative.  Since the universe was created in light of a prochronic back story and with an intended overall continuity with that back story (though with some significant, but probably not typically scientifically noticeable, discontinuities arising from the diachronic creation narrative), the clues that natural scientists find tend to be tied to the universe's prochronic history.  There is no way to tell from these clues by themselves whether the narrative they point to is diachronic or prochronic.

So prochronic history really occurred, but it exists as a back story to the narrative of diachronic history.

NEO-OMPHALOS

I want to address one more question before we conclude. How does the theory I am presenting relate to the Omphalos theory of Philip Gosse?3 Gosse attempted to reconcile a mainstream scientific account of the history of the earth with six-day creationism by postulating that the universe itself might have a cyclical life-span built into its essence just as all plants and animals do. In God's plan, a sunflower, for example, is not merely a static entity; it is an entity that has several stages of progression that develop through time and which then reproduce themselves in the next generation. Because of this characteristic, God's creation of a particular sunflower must necessarily be a creation “in the middle,” involving the appearance and effects of previous developmental processes even when there actually were none. It doesn't matter if he created the sunflower as a seed, as halfway grown, as full grown, or in any other condition—it will always exhibit the marks of previous development. And this is true for all plants and animals. Gosse suggested that the entire universe might be designed in the same way, so that God's creation of the universe at any particular time would necessarily involve the marks and effects of previous history. A more recent excellent article by Joshua Klose and Martin Dowson, titled “The Appearance of Age in Recent Creation: Reimagining Philip Gosse's Omphalos,” has developed Gosse's theory further by replacing Gosse's own emphasis on cycles with the broader concept of previous causality. Like Gosse, they point out how the various characteristics of the created world suggest previous causal history in such a way that they could not have been created without bearing the marks of such past causal processes.

I see this present theory as a further development, standing on the shoulders of Gosse and Klose and Dowson.4 Basically, it takes the core idea of the Omphalos hypothesis to a deeper level in three ways:

1. The Omphalos hypothesis points out how the essences of various objects in nature inherently suggest previous causal processes and are bound up with them. The present theory takes this to a more absolute level and points out that time itself, in its own fundamental nature, bears this characteristic. Time itself, and therefore the entire temporal universe as a whole, inherently implies a potentially infinite previous history. All creation of a space-time universe therefore must be a creation “in the middle” of time. It is not just evident that this is in fact the case from looking at the nature of particular objects (like sunflowers or mountains); it is evident that this is the case because it must logically be the case given the very nature of time.

2. Our theory adds a discussion of the Fall and the Flood of Noah into the picture and relates them to the overall theory.  Gosse did not address either (though Klose and Dowson did address the Fall, but not the Flood, in their paper).

3. Our theory goes further than previous Omphalos theories in analyzing the nature of prochronic history and its relationship to diachronic history.  In Omphalos, Philip Gosse describes the prochronic history as "ideal" as opposed to "real," existing only in the mind of God.  His formulation opened him up to the most serious criticism raised against him--namely, that he was making God a deceiver by portraying him as planting evidence of previous history in the world that never actually happened.  I think that this criticism of Gosse's theory was unfair, as Gosse made it clear in the book that the evidences of previous history in the creation are not arbitrary, simply planted there to make it look like something is the case that is not in fact the case.  Gosse said that the prochronic history, though "ideal" and not "actual," is a real component of the creation, an essential part of its nature as it is viewed by God.  So the evidences of previous history in the creation are not arbitrary, deceptive illusions, but are logical and appropriate implications of the prochronic history that is a real part of the nature of the universe.

Our theory develops Gosse's argument out further, connecting that argument to metaphysical realities about the nature of time.  As we have seen, prochronic history is not an imaginary illusion but rather an essential, logical component of the nature of the temporal universe.  Every moment in time implies a preceding moment.  The creation of the universe is the creation of a finite point of view from which space and time spread out in all directions with potential infinity and actual finitude.  This creation implies the distinction of the timeline into "prochronic" and "diachronic" history, depending on whether a particular section of the timeline falls within the post-creation narrative or is attached to that narrative as a back story.  Since both prochronic and diachronic history are perceived by God, both are real, but they have different functions.  Our theory thus makes clearer how the Omphalos concept can avoid the accusation that it involves deception.  The prochronic back story, while a back story and not part of the diachronic narrative it is attached to, is still quite real and is no illusion or fabrication.

Because of its continuity with previous Omphalos theories, combined with the further developments it brings to the Omphalos reasoning, I like to think of our current theory under the name of the "Neo-Omphalos" theory of creation.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we have seen that common analyses of the implications of the creation of the space-time universe as described in Genesis have not taken into account a fundamental fact about the nature of time that significantly effects the outcome of such an analysis—namely, that the creation of time would logically create not merely a present moving into a future but a past history as well, stretching back potentially to infinity. The realization of this fact opens up the door to a tantalizing possibility: Perhaps in his creation of the universe in the space of six days a few thousand years ago, and in his re-creation of that universe in a consistently fallen condition especially at the time of the Flood of Noah, God had in mind a universe with an entire timeline stretching into both the future and the past; and therefore the result of those creative processes was not a universe in a young, newly-born condition, but a universe with a history stretching back beyond what any finite being can perceive. The implications of this possibility are of immense importance, for it implies that there is no necessary contradiction between the current mainstream scientific account of the history of the universe and the biblical account of creation. Belief in the creation account in Genesis, therefore, does not necessarily force one to be at odds with mainstream science on this issue and to have to hold to alternative scientific ideas such as flood geology. The fact that the space-time universe must have an indefinitely-old past does not necessary imply that mainstream science is right or that flood geology is false, but it does point us at least to the consideration of other possibilities and thus broadens the dialogue between Bible believers and mainstream science.

This potential/actual distinction exists in all other areas where we have potential infinites in the world as well--another interesting example being the calculation of pi. Pi, famously, is potentially infinite, in that one never can come to the end of calculating it out. It can be calculated out forever. But because actual infinites can't exist--the space-time world being inherently finite--it will ever only be calculated out to a finite degree, no matter how amazing our future computers become. Beyond the point of the most distant calculation yet made, pi goes on with potential infinity. But, as dimension exists only in finite viewpoints or in finite perception, the further decimal places of pi do not exist in actuality but only in potentiality. That is, there is a definite form that will arise, logically connected to what has come before, at any point in the stream of decimals. But the form is only potential and never actualized unless some finite mind actually calculates it out to that degree. Again, this solves the paradox that would exist if we imagined that pi actually exists somewhere calculated out to infinity.

2 For more on the potentially infinite but actually finite nature of time and space, and for an account of how all this relates to classical arguments for the existence of God, see my book Why Christianity is True, particularly the section on “Deeper Philosophical Issues” in chapter three.

4 I have heard that an author named Donald MacKay articulated a viewpoint similar to the one put forward in this paper, but I have not yet been able to track it down and confirm this.

UPDATE 2/19/14:  For a much briefer, non-technical, simplified statement of the above theory, see here.

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