Redeeming time: special relativity, flowing time, and subjectivity in religious thought
Maness, Timothy J.
MetadataShow full item record
My dissertation investigates how relativity impacts human personhood and freedom in theology. Assumptions about human subjectivity have always affected philosophical and religious discourse about time. Most Abrahamic religious traditions assume what James McTaggart has called an A-theory of time, in which time flows, and the differences among past, present and future are meaningful, in accordance with our subjective impressions. The A-theory complements an assumption that human beings can choose their actions. However, philosophers like Hilary Putnam have employed relativistic physics to contend that time does not flow, and that the future is as fixed as the past—a B-theory in McTaggart’s terminology. D. H. Mellor and others, explicitly assuming an opposition between scientific objectivity and all subjectivity, including the subjective sense of self, have built on B-theoretic arguments to claim human consciousness is illusory. Given Abrahamic religions’ emphasis on the importance of selves, this interpretation rules out any dialogue between science and religion. If Abrahamic theology is to be compatible with modern physics, we must reconcile relativity with the A-theory of time. Two potential models already exist. William Lane Craig and J. R. Lucas draw upon physicist Hendrik Lorentz to posit a universal reference frame, based on the experience of a God who lives in time much as human beings do. Robert John Russell fuses a traditional interpretation of special relativity with Boethius’s metaphysics to propose a pluricentric view of time in which God is present in every observer’s reference frame, making each relativistic construction of events true on its own terms, and eliminating the need to reconcile frames that disagree. I argue that Russell’s model is preferable: neo-Lorentzian relativity is vulnerable to scientific critique, and Craig’s view of God risks falling into occasionalism. Finally, Russell’s system not only establishes the kind of open future that is a prerequisite for free will, but in fact dovetails with personalist ontology and epistemology that place subjectivity at the heart of existence without sacrificing the importance of science. Far from being mutually exclusive, science and subjectivity need one another, and time’s flow is an excellent place for their collaboration to start.
RightsAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International