Friday, July 01, 2016

Cosmic Teleology in Big History?--Owen Gingerich's Response

In an email message, Owen Gingerich has replied to my previous blog post on cosmic teleology in big history.  He has permitted me to post it here:

"Thank you for sending your thoughtful blog post, including a cogent critique, not of what is in my books, but rather, what is not in them.  It is difficult to contemplate the beginning of time; without meaningful change there is no way to measure the existence of time.  Likewise it is difficult to contemplate the end of time.  The closest I come to this in my two books is the quotation from Dorothy Sayers on p. 114 of God's Planet.  Hoyle notes there is an interesting but insoluble problem here concerning the future of time.  Sayers doesn't really solve it, but indicates that there is something different that surely exists.  It would take a book in deep philosophy to tackle this issue.  Just as palaeontologists can reconstruct the past without ourselves being present, astronomers can construct the future in plausible ways long after Homo sapiens is extinct, but they will run into a problem if they start to think about the end of time.  The Bible has some hints about "many mansions" in the afterlife but these do not give a coherent picture of what to expect.  Perhaps one must observe Wittgenstein's advice, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."    --     Owen Gingerich
He has asked me to include the quotation from Dorothy Sayers.  She was responding to a radio talk by Fred Hoyle.  He had observed: "Here we are in this wholly fantastic Universe, with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance."  He went on to say, "It strikes me as very curious that the Christians have so little to say about how they propose eternity should be spent. . . . Now what the Christians offer me is an eternity of frustration."  He added that he thought 300 years would be enough.
Writing under the heading "The Theologian and the Scientist," Sayers noted that "when modern scientists begin to discuss religion, I often wish that some kindly soul had thought of sending them to Sunday School.  For they do not seem to know the meaning of the words that Christians use.  Here, for example, is Mr. Fred Hoyle.  He finds the idea of immortality 'horrible' because he himself would not care to live more than 300 years.  And he complains that Christians 'have so little to say about how they propose that eternity shall be spent.'"
She went on to say: "Christians have, in fact, said a good deal about the nature of eternal life--in particular that it does not consist (as Mr. Hoyle seems to think) of endlessly prolonged time of the kind we know.  They insist that, although we are often obliged to picture eternity in terms of time, the two things are really incommensurable."
"Sayers went on," Gingerich notes, "to use the analogy of a novelist, over an undisclosed length of time developing a character, whose entire trajectory is then on display simultaneously, the difference between eternity and immortality."
I do wonder, however, whether Sayers accepted the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body, as taught by Paul.  Thomas Aquinas interpreted this to mean that people in the afterlife would have real bodies, although in some perfected form, like the body of Jesus.  And since Jesus was about 32 years old when he was crucified, Aquinas reasoned, that suggests that when we are resurrected, we will have the body that we had when we were 32 years old, or, if we die earlier than that, we will have the body that we would have had at age 32, if we had lived longer.  But does that mean that that 32 year old resurrected body will never age?  Would such a body frozen in time be a truly human body?  Wallace Stevens raised such questions in his poem "Sunday Morning," which was the subject of a blog post.

I do see Gingerich's point about being silent about that whereof we cannot speak.  The questions we are raising here might be what he calls "questions without answers," because they are questions about that of which we have no experience.  Why is there something rather than nothing? is one such question.  Since no human being has any experience with everything arising from nothing, it's not clear that the question is even comprehensible to us.

Christian, Brown, and Benjamin write: "What existed before our universe appeared remains unknown.  We simply have no evidence, so we cannot say anything scientific about the moment when our universe appeared" (19).

And just as it's hard to say anything sensible about the beginning of time, it's hard to say anything about the end of time or the eternity outside of time. 

1 comment:

CJColucci said...

I do see Gingerich's point about being silent about that whereof we cannot speak.

But he doesn't. He's the one who's talking.