Friday, February 13, 2009

Time and Creation

I stated in an earlier post that it may be that young-earth creationism (YEC) and evolutionary time-lines for the age of the earth and the universe are not incompatible. YEC states that both the earth and the universe as a whole were formed about 10,000 years ago whereas the consensus scientific view is that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the universe itself is about 14 billion years old. How then could these two views both be correct?

It depends on your view of what time is. If, as people from George Berkeley to Immanuel Kant to modern quantum physicists have suggested, the world, or in Kant's case, time, is a function of being apprehended by a conscious mind then talk about the lapse of time before there were minds to experience it is meaningless. It's like talking about what color the sky would be if there were no such thing as color vision or what color radio waves or x-rays are. They are no color at all because the proper apparatus to convert their energy into color doesn't exist.

Likewise, until there were conscious minds to experience time, perhaps there was no time at all. I wrote about this possibility about a year and a half ago in a post titled On Time and the Age of the World. Here's what I said:

Scientists tell us the universe is some 14 billion years old while young-earth creationists maintain that according to the biblical book of Genesis it's only about 10,000 years old. So which is it? It may be that both sides are correct - it all depends on how we look at time.

Time is generally considered to be an objective dimension of reality. It's believed to exist independently of our human experience of it. If there were no humans, according to this view, time would still roll on. Perhaps this is correct, but there is another possibility. Suppose that time is not an objective phenomenon at all but rather a subjective phenomenon. Suppose that time, not just our sense of time, is actually something that our minds impose upon the world just like they create color, fragrance, sound, and so on. If there were no minds there'd be no color, only electromagnetic radiations. Color is the mind's interpretation of these radiations and perhaps time, too, is a creation of the mind.

If so, then time, like color or sound, did not exist until there were human perceivers (for the sake of brevity let's ignore animal perceivers) on earth.

If this is the case, then there may have been a vast sequence of events that led up to man's appearance on earth - a Big Bang, stellar life cycles, stellar nucleosynthesis, the origin of our sun and earth, the origin of living things, etc., but these events did not occur in our time frame. They were tenseless events.

Perhaps it would help us understand this if we imagine videotaping a friend going about his everyday life for, say, two hours. Our friend would experience two hours of time elapsing, and, were we to view the tape, it would take two hours to watch it. The tape, however, could be sped up so that every event is still witnessed and still stands in the same relative spatio-temporal relation to every other event on the tape, but it only takes two minutes to watch it, or two seconds. Theoretically the information on the tape could be compressed so that it takes virtually no time at all.

To our friend "in" the film time would be unchanged, but from the perspective of the viewer "outside" the film the lapse of time would be whatever we chose it to be. We, as observers, are not in the same time as is our friend in the video and our perspective on the amount of time it takes for the events on the tape to unfold is completely different.

Perhaps, were we an observer embedded somehow in the universe during the events leading up to the appearance of human beings, it would seem to us to have taken billions of years to get to that point, but since there were no observers to these events, at least not observers in our temporal frame of reference, it's really meaningless to talk about how long it actually took to go from the moment of creation to the first appearance of human beings. All the events that precede man's arrival might be compressed like a zip file, occurring almost instantaneously, though in the same relationship with each other, and then, once human minds appear, the occurrence of those events gets "stretched out" in a temporal frame of reference imposed by man's consciousness.

Our minds place the events that scientists believe happened into a temporal context so that as we extrapolate back we assume that an event that would today take one year would also have taken one year before there were minds. What in fact we mean, though, is that the event would have taken one year if there had been human witnesses to observe it. If there were no such observers it would be literally meaningless to talk about how long the events took to occur. It would be like asking what's north of the north pole or what's beyond the edge of the universe. The events prior to man's appearance literally took no time at all.

Perhaps, the writer of Genesis is trying to put something like this into words we can understand when he talks about the days of creation. God creates the universe in a relatively brief period of time, perhaps instantaneously, perhaps more slowly. If this is so, then the Genesis account gives us a good idea of the age of human civilization, but how much time preceded the appearance of modern humans is inscrutable. It may have been very long or it may have been relatively brief or there may have been no time at all. We can only say that were those same events to occur in such a way that we could observe them they would take billions of years. Whatever time it actually took, however, was determined by God's temporal context, not ours, since He was the only observer.


Shrinking Hillary's Profile

Dick Morris argues that the Obama team has effectively isolated and marginalized Hillary Clinton by relieving her of most of her important responsibilities and giving them to people who will have greater access to the White House. Doubtless this was not done unintentionally. By taking her out of the limelight enjoyed by previous Secretaries of State it makes it harder for her to mount an effective challenge to Obama in 2012.

By putting her at State the Obama people removed her from the Senate where she was a high-profile figure. Now, if she remains at the State Department, she's too far removed from the action to draw much publicity or to build her résumé, and if she resigns in frustration then she's left with no platform at all upon which to launch a campaign.

Even so, it seems that the safest course for the President would have been to make her an integral part of his team, or at least make it appear that she was. This would have made it much harder for her to generate sympathy among Democrats for a primary challenge against the gracious incumbent. She would have appeared ungrateful and disloyal. As it is, she, and Bill, are probably now more determined than ever to send Mr. Obama back to Chicago in 2012.