Friday, July 27, 2012

An Argument for Idealism (of the Berkeleyan Sort)

 I wrote this as an example paper for a Philosophy class a few years back.  It articulates a case for idealism.

Having examined the arguments for and against materialism, dualism, and idealism, I believe that idealism is the right answer. Dualism and materialism both lack evidence to support their claims, and they lead to absurdities when examined closely. Idealism is based squarely on the empirical evidence, and it leads to no absurdities (although it tends to rub our biases the wrong way).

Dualism is the position that most of our minds (at least in this culture) tend to gravitate towards as the default position. Perhaps part of it is that we tend to like anything that sounds middle-groundish; we are a culture that loathes anything that sounds extreme. Dualism posits that there are two fundamentally different substances in the universe--consciousness and mind-independent matter (let’s call the latter MIM from now on as a shorthand). I think there are some serious, unsolvable problems with this viewpoint. One problem with dualism is that we have no evidence whatsoever for the existence of MIM. All we ever actually perceive are collections of sensory qualities--touch, sound, taste, color, smell, etc. These are qualities that inherently assume minds that they are in. To conceive of texture, for instance, apart from a mind experiencing the sense of touch is impossible, because that experience makes up the very essence of the concept of texture. One may point out that of course we never observe anything but sensory qualities, since we have to observe things through our senses. Granted, but the point still remains. We never observe anything but sensory characteristics. We never observe MIM. So why believe in it? Some might argue MIM is necessary to explain our experience of sensory qualities. However, not only is MIM unnecessary to explain our experiences, it is impossible for MIM to explain them. Why? Because MIM cannot be the cause of our sensory impressions. If MIM exists, it is a substance utterly different from consciousness. Particles of MIM can, presumably, influence other particles of MIM, and you can have complex MIM objects made up of MIM particles. But MIM particles, being made of a fundamentally different substance from consciousness, would not be able to cause effects in consciousness, in the mind. If the mind is not a physical (in the MIM sense) thing, then how could physical forces affect it? Physical forces could influence physical objects, but a physical force could never influence a non-physical object. Nor could a non-physical force ever affect a physical object--only a physical force could do that. This seems self-evident from observing the very concepts of a physical object/force (in a MIM sense) and a non-physical object/force. So if these two substances exist, they could never interact with each other, which means that MIM could not be the cause of our sensory experiences. So our experiences give us no evidence for the existence of MIM at all. And not only is there no evidence for the existence of MIM, but since dualism requires that MIM and consciousness interact with each other in a coherent system, the impossibility of such interaction is itself another argument against dualism.

Another problem with the concept of MIM is that we really have no idea in our minds that corresponds to it. That is, when we talk about MIM, we have no idea what we are talking about. Take a table, for example. A table, as we experience it, is a collection of sensory qualities. According to the MIM theory, the reason I am observing the sensory qualities of a table is because there exists a mind-independent object, an object independent of anything that implies impressions on a mind, that is causing that image to be reflected onto my mind. But what would such an object be like? We must remove from the concept any characteristics that require the idea of a mind perceiving, which means we must remove from our idea of the object texture, sound, smell, color, shape, and taste. All of these sorts of characteristics imply a mind that is observing. Shape, for example, implies a particular viewpoint from which the shape is viewed, implying a mind viewing. All ideas of texture imply a particular experience of touch experienced by a mind. Once you separate all qualities that are connected to the mind perceiving/sensing, there is no idea left. Its very essence is gone. Now, it might be pointed out that of course this is the case, because since we are minds, we cannot imagine anything without tying it to our minds. Granted, but the point still remains. We have no real concept of anything apart from sensory characteristics. Sensory characteristics make up the very essence of our ideas of material objects. So when we talk about MIM objects, we really have no idea in our minds of what such a thing would be. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal if we had evidence that such things existed--not knowing what something is like is not itself evidence that it does not exist--but in this case, we have no evidence that such things exist at all, as I have shown above.

Another problem with dualism is that the concept of two fundamentally different substances existing in the same universe/reality is absurd. We can imagine two physical objects existing in reality--say, a soccer ball and a tree--because they are the same sort of thing. They have physical characteristics, they can affect each other, they are in space in positions relative to each other (for example, the soccer ball might be 20 meters to the south of the tree). But what would it mean to have a physical object like a soccer ball existing in reality with a non-physical object like a mind? How would they relate to each other? Where would the mind be in relation to the soccer ball? How could the ball relate to another object in any other way than spatially? How could the non-physical mind, which is not a spatial object, relate to an object that is spatial in its nature? Trying to relate the two together would be trying to put together two mutually exclusive visions of what a “real object” is. It is like the metaphysical version of trying to run an old Apple computer program on an IBM. They aren’t compatible. And not only that, but if there are two fundamentally different substances in reality, they cannot have a common source. They would have to have independent sources. Not having a common source, they would be utterly independent and thus have nothing at all in common. They would not even share a common framework as parts of a larger reality. They would not share the same laws of logic or physics, etc. They could not be parts of a larger whole, which they would have to be in order to both exist in reality. So it is absurd to suppose that there is more than one fundamental substance in the universe. All of these arguments show that dualism is completely unviable as a view of the nature of the substance of the universe.

Materialism is another of the three possible views. It holds that there is only one fundamental substance in the universe, and that substance is MIM (mind-independent matter). It is obvious that many of the objections raised against dualism are going to apply against materialism as well. There is no evidence for the existence of MIM, we have no idea of what MIM would be, etc. Materialism appears on the surface to avoid the gap problems that dualism is prone to--that is, it seems to avoid the problem of trying to get two fundamentally different substances to relate to each other. However, I think it does have a very similar gap problem; it just gets to it by a different route. Materialists believe that consciousness is a product of the interaction of MIM particles. There is a universe full of mind-independent, non-conscious particles. When these particles interact in certain complex ways, materialists argue, consciousness is produced, mind is produced, with its thoughts, emotions, etc. The problems here is that if you arrange mind-independent, non-conscious particles together, what you get is a more complex mind-independent, non-conscious object. You don’t get consciousness. It doesn’t matter how many MIM particles you have or how complexly you arrange them together--no matter what you do with them, arranging MIM particles together will only produce a complex MIM object or system; it cannot produce something other than MIM, like mind/consciousness. If the particles are not mind, the object/system produced by their assembly will not be mind either, because nothing other than non-mind has been added to it. If the particles are not conscious, the object/system will be non-conscious as well, because nothing other than non-conscious matter has been introduced. All that changes is that now you have a complex system of mind-independent, non-conscious particles instead of a bunch of MIM particles floating about separately. Nothing in the whole thing is conscious, so the whole thing will be a non-conscious, mind-independent machine. As you can see, when you press it, materialism ends up turning into a kind of dualism. Instead of starting with two fundamentally different substances, like traditional dualism, materialism has a new substance created from an old one, which doesn’t solve old problems but instead creates new ones. The only way out of this would be for materialists to deny the existence of consciousness/mind. They could just say that there is nothing in the entire universe but non-conscious, mind-independent particles and the machines they create. But to deny the existence of consciousness would be to deny the existence of the only thing for which we actually have direct, observable evidence in order to preserve a belief in a substance for which we have no observable or inferential evidence whatsoever--which would be the height of absurdity. So materialism must be ruled out as a viable option as well.

Idealism is the only view that can explain the data of our experience. It alone avoids falling into the traps of the other two, and it creates no logical or observational problems of its own. Idealism says that consciousness is the only substance that exists in reality. It denies the existence of MIM. This fits the facts, because consciousness is all we observe to exist and have evidence for; MIM is a concept we have no idea of and no evidence for. Idealism has no gap problem like the other two views, because it alone (besides the version of materialism that denies the existence of consciousness) does not end up positing more than one fundamental substance.

There are a few objections that might be raised against idealism. One objection would be that it seems absurd to say that all objects in the world are collections of sensory qualities. Doesn’t it seem odd to say that when I eat an apple, I am eating an idea? When I walk across a room, I am walking across an idea? Well, yes, it sounds strange to put it that way. But we must remember that “idea” in idealism is broader than the way we use the word in causal conversation--it means not just some visual image I have in my head but includes all sensory perceptions, everything relating to touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. When I eat an apple, the whole process never involves, as far as I can see, anything but a large and complex collection of sensory experiences. The same applies to walking across a room, or any other activity. Why do we eat in idealism? Because we are a small part of reality, and we grow by taking into us in various ways more of reality. We are interacting and growing in a very complex sensory environment in which there are many ways to interact and relate to things. But nothing that we do requires or implies the existence of anything other than sensory qualities. There is no logical problem here. The problem is that we are not used to thinking in terms of idealism and so the concept sounds weird to us. But “this sounds weird and is not what I thought” is not the same as “I have a rational argument against this.” We must learn to distinguish between these two things.

Another objection that might be raised against idealism is that it requires the concept of a universal mind in order to work. It is obvious that it is not only in my mind that things exist. The world has an existence independent of my association or causation. Therefore, idealists need to posit that there is a universal mind in which all sensory objects exist, and we sense things by means of participation in, or borrowing from (however you want to put it), this larger mind. An objector might argue that to posit such a being is an enormous leap and thus makes idealism suspect. There are two parts to the idealist response here: 1. If idealism has to make a leap here, what about materialism and dualism? They have to bring in MIM to make their systems work. We’ve seen that MIM is a substance which no one has any idea of, for which there is no evidence at all, and which brings with it a number of unsolvable absurdities. So if there is a problem here for idealism, it is certainly at least no less of a problem for materialism and dualism. 2. Is it a leap to bring in a universal mind? Even if it is a leap, is it as big a leap as bringing in MIM? That depends on what one thinks of the arguments for and against such a universal mind, and whether one thinks such a concept is logically tenable. This would bring us into theistic-atheistic arguments over the existence and nature of God, which we obviously do not have the time to delve into here. If God (what theists call a universal mind) is a logically problematic concept, then idealism has a serious problem here, but so do materialism and dualism; so they are all on the same level, they are all fundamentally flawed. If the concept of God is not logically problematic, but there is simply no evidence for such a being, then idealism has perhaps made a leap in bringing in God, but it is a logical and rationally acceptable leap. It is bringing in a concept that has no logical problems, which is a reasonable move, whereas materialism and dualism have to bring in a concept that is fraught with logical problems. But if the classic theistic arguments for God are good arguments (as I believe they are), then we have much independent reason to believe that there is a universal mind, and so bringing such an entity into the picture would not only be logically OK, but it would not even be making a leap at all. It would be bringing in something we already knew had to be there from other independent lines of evidence. So idealism would not be making a leap; rather, it would be providing another line of evidence for the existence of God, and it would be totally in accord with what we have already learned that the universe is like.

Another objection that might be made against idealism is that it denies the existence of material objects, which we can clearly see exist all around us. But, of course, this is just verbal confusion. Idealists do not deny the existence of material objects; they simply disagree with materialists and dualists about the nature of those objects. Idealists actually affirm the existence of material objects far more straightforwardly than do materialism and dualism. These latter views, in looking at a table, for example, have to say, “This sensory appearance of a table is not actually the table itself. The table itself is an object that exists apart from all texture, sound, color, shape, smell, and taste, an object that we have no idea of and no evidence for. That object (we know not where it is, since it is inherently unobservable) somehow creates the impression of a table on our minds (even though the impression, being made up of sensory qualities, is nothing like the original thing), by means of a physical force creating a non-physical effect, somehow.” An idealist looks at a table and says, “That collection of sensory qualities you actually see right in front of you, with its particular texture, color, etc.--that thing is itself the table. There is no unknown and unknowable object behind it that is the real table. We can actually observe the table itself.” Whose view does a simpler, more straightforward job of affirming the existence of the material objects we actually observe? Whose view avoids unsolvable complexities and simply affirms that which is self-evident?

I can think of no other objections against the idealist position. In light of all of the above, I conclude that materialism and dualism are false and that idealism is true.

ADDENDUM 7/12/17:  I just put up another article making this argument here.

The Philosophical Foundations of the Reformation Party, and Why Christians Should Join With Us

This is something I wrote up for the Reformation Party website.  Please check out the website if you are interested.  Stand up for the crown rights of King Jesus in the political sphere!

The Reformation Party is unique in many ways in today's western political climate, though it would not have been so unique in time past before the advent of secularism in western cultures. Because of its unique, non-secularist stand, it is important to provide a thorough explanation of the philosophical basis upon which its platform lies. This article is an attempt to do that. Of course, the themes we will look at in this article are discussed elsewhere in much greater depth, and we will refer to some resources at the end of the article where the reader can go to get a fuller treatment of them.

The fundamental assumption of the Reformation Party is that Christianity is true. We also hold that the classic Reformed tradition, as summarized in the Westminster Standards, is the purest expression of biblical Christianity. Just about everyone would agree that it is better to live in accord with reality than out of accord with it. Since Christianity is reality, the right and sensible thing to do is live in accordance with it. Individuals should live according to the principles of Christianity. Families should order themselves in line with them. Businesses, educational institutions, churches, and all other human institutions should be ordered according to biblical principles, for the simple reason that those principles are true. And this applies to the civil sphere, the state, as well.

It would be absurd for any human individual or human institution to ignore the true worldview and to base laws on that which is known to be false. This is why the currently prevailing (in the west, anyway) philosophy that the civil government should be neutral makes no sense. Secularism is the position that the civil government ought not to endorse any particular religion. Secularists claim that this view is neutral, but in reality it is the establishment of Agnosticism as the official religion of the nation, for it requires the government to take a “know nothing” attitude towards religious claims. It is in effect the embracing of Atheism or Naturalism, as it implies that the civil government should ignore information derived from religious sources (like the Word of God) and should base its decisions only on information derived from the natural world without taking into account anything else. This is completely irrational, if Christianity is true. What would we think of a father who took a position like this with regard to his family? “Well, I know that Christianity is true, but I choose to structure my family around the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita instead.” Or, closer to the case under discussion, “I choose to structure my family around the principles of Atheism.” This would be absurd, and it would also be wicked, for God is the ultimate moral authority of the universe and all human beings, both individually and corporately, are under a moral obligation to regard God as Lord over all things, to obey all his commands, and to structure their entire lives according to his desires and standards. Many Christians get this when it comes to individuals, families, businesses, classrooms, etc., but they don't see that it clearly applies to the state as well.

So we are obligated both by prudence and moral obligation to work for Christian standards to be implemented in all areas of life, including the state. We should therefore look to the Bible to see what God has to say about the nature, role, and authority of civil magistrates, and to see what specific instructions God has given to those functioning in that role. The Bible's teachings on this subject can be found throughout the Old and New Testaments. One of the most important summary passages is Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

There are descriptive as well as prescriptive elements in this passage. Paul is instructing the Roman Christians to submit to the governing authorities who are currently governing. But in giving this instruction, he also sums up the prescriptive role of the civil magistrate. The role of the civil magistrate is to protect those who do good and to punish evildoers. The Westminster Confession sums up the overall role of the civil magistrate in this way, almost paraphrasing Paul:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (WCF 23:1)

God is the ultimate moral authority, but he has delegated limited authority to human beings in various spheres, such as in the family, in the church, and in the state. Each of these spheres has roles that are complementary to the others. The role of the family is to provide mutual help for husband and wife and to raise up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, training them to grow into faithful Christian adults (Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:1-4). The role of the church is to shepherd the people of God, teaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, and exercising spiritual discipline (Titus 1:9; Matthew 18:15-20). The role of the state is to protect the society from actions which promote evil and which thwart good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Acts 25:10-11). The family uses parental instruction and discipline as its tools. The church uses spiritual teaching and discipline. And the state uses the power of the sword (lawmaking and law enforcement). As all of these spheres are mutually complementary, none of them should attempt to encroach into the domain of the others. None of the authorities should attempt to take upon themselves that which is outside their proper sphere (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 for an example of the civil power attempting to take on spiritual duties and God's response). Parents should not attempt to administer the sacraments or to excommunicate their children from the church. Church officers should not attempt to arrest or execute people for civil crimes. Civil magistrates should not take it upon themselves to be the primary caretakers of children. And so on. All the spheres should work in complementary harmony under God, the Head of all.

The Scriptures say it is the role of the state to protect the good and punish the evildoers. The civil magistrate is “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Whose wrath is he a revenger of? Where is he to look for the standard of good and evil by which he must decide how to carry out his functions? Dictatorship would tell us that the ultimate standard is the will of the dictator. Modern secular democracy tells us that the ultimate standard is the will of the people. But the Scriptures tell us that it is the will of God, expressed in his law. The civil magistrate is not ultimately the minister of himself or the minister of the people, but he is the minister of God. He is to care for the people under his jurisdiction, but his authority is from God and it is his task to rule according to God's standards. God's moral law is to be the foundation of the civil laws and policies of the society.

Some Christians will grant this with regard to what are often called “offenses against the second table (of the Ten Commandments)”--that is, offenses that are immediately horizontal, directed to human beings, such as murder, theft, adultery, etc. But they shrink back from holding that civil magistrates are to enforce the first table of God's law—that is, laws that more immediately concern our relationship with God, such as laws against the worship of false gods, idolatry, blasphemy, etc. But there is no biblical basis for this distinction. Nowhere in all of Scripture do we ever find it taught that the state is to limit itself to the second table of the law. Romans 13 makes no distinction: The state is for the praise of the “good” and for the punishment of “evildoers,” in general. This idea that the state must not enforce laws dealing with man's relationship to God is simply a myth that has become popular due to the prevalency of modern secular ideas in western culture, a prevalency that has infected even the church to some degree. In the Law of Moses, we find that the society is to civilly punish not only murder, theft, and the like horizontal crimes (Exodus 21:12-14; 22:1-4), but also idolatry and blasphemy (Deuteronomy 17:2-7; Leviticus 24:10-16).

This raises a question: Do the civil laws in the Law of Moses have continuing authority for the state today? The Westminster Confession, following the general Christian tradition (and ultimately the Bible), divides the law of God up into three sorts of laws: moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments and is forever morally binding (though we are freed from its curse in Christ and rely on God's grace to live it out in our lives). The ceremonial portions of the law have to do with ceremonies and practices that were earthly shadows pointing forward to the work of Christ and to various moral duties and are no longer in force to be literally followed by Christians today. The judicial law refers to the case laws—that is, the applications of the principles outlined in the Ten Commandments to particular circumstances (such as many of those found in Exodus 21-23). In this category are included the laws addressed to the society in its civil capacity. These laws, being addressed directly to the people of Israel in Old Testament times, have much in them that no longer applies to us today given the significant changes in our circumstances from the conditions of God's people in the Old Testament. However, there is also much in these laws that is moral and universal in character, and these aspects do apply to us today. Here is how the Westminster Confession summarizes the Scriptural position on the judicial laws:

To them also [that is, to the people of Israel], as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require. (WCF 19:4)

Aspects of laws that relate to temporary characteristics of the state of the people of God in the Old Testament (such as laws separating Jews and Gentiles, laws regarding what foods can be eaten, laws regarding the earthly Tabernacle, etc.) no longer apply in their literal form today. Aspects of laws that relate to permanent and universal moral principles (such as laws dealing with such permanent evils and dangers as murder, theft, and blasphemy) are still binding on people today. Many of the civil laws fall into this latter category. Particularly, the Reformed tradition has historically acknowledged that laws commanding the punishment of sins against the first table of God's law, such as laws against the public toleration of idolatry, still apply to the state today, as is evident from the entirety of WCF 23. As an example, here is what commissioners from the historic Reformed Church of Scotland had to say about the public toleration of idolatry in 1649:

As the Lord by his servant Moses, in the 17th of Deuteronomy, requires of him that shall reign over his people, that he have a copy of the law of the Lord by him, and that he read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep all the words of that law; so in the 13th [chapter] of that book he gives a command to put to death the false prophet, and the brother that speaks to his people to turn them away from the Lord their God; and the reasons taken from the nature of the duty, whereby he persuades unto the obedience thereof, are perpetual and no less binding unto us now, than to them of old. How strongly doth the Lord plead, in the 22d [chapter] of Deuteronomy, against toleration and false worship, and all the occasions thereof, and provocations and incitements thereto? and how severe is he about the removing and destroying all these, and in tying all his people to one way according to the rule of his word? (

God is no less concerned now for his public honor and for the protection of true religion than he ever has been. Idolatry is just as wicked and harmful now as ever. Just as we recognize the continuing role of the civil magistrate in protecting the life and property of citizens today as well as in ancient Israel, so we should recognize the continuing role of the magistrate in protecting the public honor of God and the spiritual welfare of the people. To quote again from the representatives of the Church of Scotland in 1649:

As that infinitely glorious divine Essence is one in himself most holy, most righteous, most true, so hath he given unto the children of men, one eternal, unchangeable law, according to the rule whereof they are to square their profession, and order their conversation: Therefore as his justice requires in the covenant of works that we should walk according thereto without declining to the right hand or to the left, so he in his mercy promises in the covenant of grace to give unto his people one heart and one way to fear him for ever: And in both covenants they are obliged to walk after the rule of this law. It is acknowledged by many of those with whom we have now to do, that no liberty is to be allowed unto men in the breaches of the duties of the second table, which we owe unto our neighbours, but that if a man sin against his neighbour, and disturb the peace of the common-wealth, he is to be restrained and punished: Can there any solid reason be given why it should not also be thus in regard of the duties of the first table which we owe unto God? Is not one Lord author of both? hath not conscience influence upon both? Is not the Lord's glory interested in the one as well as in the other? Doth not his image shine as brightly, and may it not be as much defaced in the one as in the other? Are the things of God less precious than the things of men, and that which concerns the soul less to be cared for than that which concerns the body? or are we more to value our own damage than the Lord's dishonour? We know that no man hath dominion over the conscience: But the Lord who made it, exercises his sovereignty therein; and he hath set a law unto the spirits of men, after the rule whereof they are to order both their judgments and affections; and hath given power to those whom he clothes with authority, which they are to exercise in these things so far as they are manifested in expressions and actions unto the dishonour of his name, and hurt and prejudice of others.

As we mentioned earlier, secularism claims to be neutral. It also claims to be tolerant and loving and accuses biblical law of being harsh and bigoted. But secularism is not neutral. Nor is it inherently more or less tolerant than any other philosophy. All societies have something in common: They all make and enforce laws according to their own beliefs and values, tolerating what their worldviews consider tolerable and not tolerating what their worldviews consider intolerable. We have seen that blasphemy (dishonoring God's name) is a civil crime according to God's law. It is not so in a secular society. Is this because the secular society is “nicer”? No, it is because a secular society, being an Agnostocracy, does not care at all about the public honor of God because it considers God to be a myth. If God is a myth, then having laws against blasphemy makes no more sense than having laws against publicly insulting the Keebler Elves. But if God is not a myth, if he is instead the Supreme Being and Creator and of infinite value, then blasphemy is a grossly wicked moral action and ought not to be tolerated. All societies become intolerant when values they see themselves bound to protect are threatened. Modern liberal secular societies generally put value on human life and private property to some degree, and so they make laws against theft and murder. The problem with the argument for having a secular society is that it asks us to accept a non-Christian foundation for determining which values the society ought to protect and how it ought to protect them. And we've already seen that since Christianity is reality, it is foolish to base our policies on false, unrealistic non-Christian beliefs and values.

It also needs to be pointed out that though secularism claims to be a neutral safe haven for people of all views, there is no reason to believe that secularism will be tolerant of distinctively Christian beliefs and practices. So far, in the United States in particular, Christians have indeed been relatively safe in our secular society. But times are changing. Secularism has been to a large degree kept at bay by the fact that the United States has for most of its history been made up mostly of Protestant Christians of varying degrees of doctrinal purity and faithfulness. Over the past century, this has begun to change dramatically. We have seen remarkable growth in the number of people with non-Christian views in our society, including a rapidly growing Agnostic/Atheist community. These non-Christians are taking full advantage of American secularism to push out of the public sphere Christian beliefs and values and to instill their own. Many of the culture war battles we have seen and are continuing to see in the United States—including battles over abortion, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, and many others—are really front line battles in the war of worldviews. And we are consistently seeing Christians beliefs and values losing these battles to the beliefs and values of Agnostics and Atheists as the United States resolves itself more and more into consistency with its declared secular political ideology. Unless there is a dramatic shift, we can expect to see more of the same in the future, with greater and greater acceleration. As this happens, there is no doubt that toleration of some distinctively Christian practices is going to significantly decrease. Atheists and Agnostics often preach toleration for religious viewpoints today, but much of this is owing to the fact that they do not yet have the power to squelch dissent to many of the items on their agenda. We should not expect them to keep this up forever. Already, both in the United States and in Europe (which is further along the road to full secularism in some ways than the United States and which many secularists in the US look to as a model), there are signs of decreasing toleration for many religious practices. The fights over homeschooling, the battles over tolerating circumcision of male children, and the attempts of anti-discrimination laws to stop people who own apartments and businesses from refusing the demands of homosexuals, are just a few examples of what we should expect to see much more of in the coming years. Unless things turn around.

Ultimately, only God can turn the tide of secularism. Only God can overcome any of the false ideologies that dominate human societies today. But God often chooses to work through means, and he invites us to be his fellow-workers, in reliance on his grace and strength, in the battle. It is time for Christians to stop accepting the status quo that secularism and other non-Christian ideologies should be dominant in our societies. It is time that we refuse to be put into the secular box of “religious fundamentalists whose beliefs belong in private life” and instead employ all our powers and opportunities to proclaim and work for the crown rights of Christ the King and of his law and gospel in all areas of life, including politics. The Reformation Party is one of the few political parties in the world today that proudly, consistently, and unashamedly stands for a consistent and explicit Christian foundation for social/political ethics. And of the few parties that do stand for this, we are part of an even smaller group of political parties (I am only currently aware of two, including the Reformation Party) that stand for a fully consistent version of Christianity as the foundation for politics—the historic Reformed faith, summarized in the Westminster Standards. Don't get your values from the Agnostic world that surrounds us, or whatever false ideology is dominant where you live. Live and advocate in all areas of life for the beliefs and values that are rooted in reality, in the Word of the true and living God. Join the Reformation Party and help us show the church and the world a better way!

Some resources for further research on the biblical principles of civil government (besides documents already quoted from above):

The Absurdity and Perfidy of All Authoritative Toleration - An excellent work by John Brown of Haddington outlining a biblical case for biblical civil government and responding to objections.  A series of MP3 readings of the book can be found here, and a hard copy of the book edited by Gospel Covenant Publications (under the title of A Refutation of Religious Pluralism) can be purchased here.

Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty - A great article by Scottish Presbyterian George Gillespie discussing the classic Reformed view of liberty of conscience.

A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience – Another excellent work on liberty of conscience by Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford.  A hard copy of this book edited by Gospel Covenant Publications (under the title of Conscience, Liberty and God's Word) can be purchased here.

The Written Law, or the Law of God Revealed in the Scriptures, by Christ as Mediator; the Rule of Duty to Christian Nations in Civil Institutions – Great book by American Reformed Presbyterian theologian James R. Willson on the role of God's law in the Scriptures for the exercise of civil magistracy.

Essay on Tolerance – A nice little essay on the rhetoric of tolerance, also by James R. Willson

One Hundred and Eleven Propositions – Another work by George Gillespie articulating biblical principles of church and civil government in a series of propositions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why It Is Absurd and Self-Contradictory to Claim Not to Believe in the Necessary Universality of Logic

1. To believe that logic is universal is simply to believe that A is always not non-A, that positive characteristics (being, redness, alive-ness, etc.) always exclude their opposites.

2. To believe that logic is not necessarily universal is to believe that A is not necessarily not non-A, that positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites.

3. If positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites, then no positive characteristic can ever be brought forward to exclude the reality of any opposing characteristic, or no proposition can ever be used to exclude any opposing proposition. For example, “there is a book on the shelf” could not be used to exclude “there is not a book on the shelf.”

4. If no proposition can be used to exclude any opposing proposition, and no characteristic implies the absence of an opposing characteristic, then all propositions are meaningless. For the meaning of a proposition is always bound up with the assumption that true propositions exclude false propositions that oppose them. For example, there is no meaning to the statement that “evolution really happened” if we do not assume that it excludes “evolution didn't really happen” (keeping the same definitions of words in both sentences, of course). If the former proposition's truth does not necessarily imply the latter proposition's falsehood, then there is no meaning in the former proposition.

5. If all propositions are meaningless, then knowledge is impossible. For knowledge also depends on the assumption that positive characteristics exclude their opposites and that propositions exclude opposing propositions. Using the same example, if “evolution really happened” does not necessarily exclude “evolution didn't really happen,” then there is no actual content to the knowledge claim that “evolution really happened.”

6. Related to #5, if positive characteristics and propositions do not exclude their opposites, then it will be impossible to prove anything. For no matter how much evidence one gathers to support any proposition, if that proposition does not inherently and necessarily exclude its opposite, then one cannot argue from the truth of one proposition to the non-truth of an opposing proposition, and therefore one cannot establish the truth of any meaningful propositions or knowledge claims. No matter how much evidence one gathers to prove that “evolution really happened,” if this claim does not necessarily exclude the claim that “evolution didn't really happen,” then the first claim has no meaning and thus cannot be an element of knowledge, and therefore cannot be proven. It cannot even be more likely, for any evaluation of a truth claim will depend on that truth claim having some positive meaning.

7. If propositions and positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites, then even the proposition that “propositions and positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites” does not necessarily exclude the contrary proposition, “propositions and positive characteristics DO necessarily exclude their opposites,” and therefore the former proposition has no meaning. So the very claim that “propositions and positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites,” or that “logic is not necessarily universal,” is self-contradictory and therefore meaningless, because to make such a claim is to assume that the claim has meaning while the claim itself implies that it does not have meaning.

8. No one can avoid making propositional truth claims or believing various knowledge claims. Therefore, if propositions and positive characteristics do not necessarily exclude their opposites, then all people, so far as they are conscious, are always engaging in self-contradictory behavior, believing meaningless and self-contradictory truth claims and asserting meaningless and self-contradictory propositions. Including me, right now, and including any responses to this. And also not including these things. And both. And neither.

9. Since all people who are conscious always continue to believe truth claims and make propositional statements AS IF they have meaning and knowledge can be had, AS IF positive characteristics and propositions necessarily exclude their opposites—that is, AS IF logic is necessarily universally valid—therefore it is clear that no one really believes that logic is not necessarily universally valid, and all people see that it is, however much they confuse themselves into thinking that they don't see this. And that makes sense, because it is self-evident that propositions and positive characteristics necessarily exclude their opposites—that is, that logic is necessarily universally valid. It is as self-evident, for example, that redness excludes non-redness and being excludes non-being as it is that something exists, that I (whoever you are, apply it to yourself) exist, etc.

10. Since logic is necessarily universally valid, the central claim of rationalist epistemology is true, which is that logical, deductive arguments can be legitimately used to establish true knowledge about the real world. If logic is necessarily universally valid, no self-contradictory or illogical proposition (such as, “the past is infinite”) could possibly be true, and any proposition that is required by logic must be true.

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

See here for a newer, revised version of this paper.

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 bit of a different twist regarding the real existence of the past history of the universe created at the creation.

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.


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.


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. 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.1 


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 denied even 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 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. 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 biblical account. Typically, people who hold to an old earth reject the best reading of Scripture, which is the young-earth creationist reading, 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.


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 am convinced 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.


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 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.


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?2 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.3 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. The Omphalos hypothesis left unaddressed the nature of what Gosse called “prochronic” history—that is, the history before the creation. Gosse spoke of this prochronic history as being not “real” but only “ideal,” existing not in reality but only in the mind of God. But I would challenge the idea that this distinction will ultimately hold up. What is the difference between a creation that is “real” and one that exists “only” in the mind of God? Where does the real world we live in exist? Does it exist outside of the mind of God? We need to be careful with our language here, as we are prone to forget what sort of being God is when we discuss subjects like these. Words like “outside” and “inside” cannot be applied in any literal, physical sense when applied to God. God is not a physical being who exists in space. He is an utterly simple, indivisible being who transcends the limitations of physicality. Gosse's language of “real” vs. “ideal” history suggests the idea of some thing existing only “in the mind of God” while other things exist “outside” of it. But where is “outside of the mind of God”? Is God's mind a spatial location from which one can physically remove oneself so as to be outside of it—say, twenty meters to the left side of it? This is a complicated issue, and we don't have time here to do more than mention it, but I would argue that anything that exists in God's mind really exists and therefore can't be separated absolutely from “reality.” What is it that holds me in being every moment? Is it not that God views me as existing? Is it not “in him that we live, move, and have our being”? If God envisions a history previous to creation, his omniscience must perfectly perceive every detail of it, and therefore it must indeed have a real existence and be as substantial as anything we call “real.” There may be a unique relationship between “diachronic” and “prochronic” history, in that one might be tagged on to the other as a back story (much as in a novel a distinction can be made between things that happen in the novel—i.e. they are actually narrated in it—vs. things that are assumed to have happened in it but which never actually occur within its narrative); but both forms of history must be real in their own spheres.4 Therefore, I see our present theory as indeed a break from previous Omphalos theories in talking about the prochronic past as a part of reality; but I think it is actually more accurate to describe it not so much as a break than as a further development of ideas already present in Gosse's original theory but which are worked out further here. For this reason, I like to think of this theory as the “Neo-Omphalos theory.”


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.

1 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.


3 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.

4 For more on the subject of the metaphysical relationship between God and the creation, see again the section on “Deeper Philosophical Issues” in chapter three of my book, Why Christianity is True.

UPDATE 6/15/13:  For more discussion of this subject, see posts under the "Neo-Omphalos Theory" label, especially this post which provides some important additional clarifications to the theory.