Lucas Mix on Time and Eternity (and souls and vampires)


Lucas Mix, a friend of mine here in Arizona and so brilliant he makes my head hurt (heh) has taken up a lenten discipline of daily blogging. (Lucas btw is one of the people who finally convinced me that I might actually be accepted a member of the SOSc.) He’s been writing for the past week on the ways we can think about concepts in a scientific worldview and about how we can think through the same things in a theological view. Today’s post on “time” goes a step beyond that. And discusses vampire curses at the end…

Picking up his argument in midstream (heh) where he is introducing the idea of a river (with its current) as a tool for thinking about the relationship between time that is everlasting and time that is eternal. (Newton btw uses the same sort of metaphor, as does Gregory of Nazianzus.)

“The current does not transcend the river, so we can think of it as everlasting, but not eternal. A dam crosses the river and exists beyond it, but only at one point.  We can think of it as eternal, but not everlasting.  The air above (and interacting with) the river throughout its course can be thought of as both eternal and everlasting, while a solitary stone stuck to the bed might be neither.

Similarly, we can speak of temporal things.  Those are objects within the time-stream.  Everything about the current is temporal, but only the wet parts of the dam are.  Only the dissolved oxygen from the air counts as temporal.  So eternal things may or may not have temporal elements.

I think science can only talk reliably about temporal things.  Science depends upon empirical data, information received through our physical senses.  Science, then, inherently relies on the physical and sequential events reported by our temporal bodies.  Nor, do I think, it should speculate on things outside the river, as we lack an objective reference frame.  How can we say the river curves, when we cannot see objects on the bank to compare it to?  How can we say the current speeds up or slows down if we cannot compare the flow rate to some clock unaffected by the current?  I’m not saying we could never ask these questions scientifically, but I do think to do so begs the question – what is science?  It would require philosophical assumptions we’re not prepared to accept at the moment.  So for now, science only does temporal things.

Christian theology, on the other hand, speaks of eternal things.  I don’t know that I can analytically prove the existence of things eternal.  The existence of a river strongly suggests to me the existence of a bed.  (See my post on “The Unmoved Mover.”)  The persistence of entropy, which is currently our best understanding of what drives the current, also seems evocative of something transcendent.  Nonetheless, belief in eternity usually comes from transcendent experience rather than discussion.  I can show you eternity, but I have difficulty telling you about it.”

More here.

Follow the link to read the connections between this idea, the meaning behind the eternal soul and the everlasting life of a vampire.

Lucas’ argument here is deeply grounded in traditional Christian theology (particularly that of the Patristic era). If you read the writings of any of the Oxonian Inklings you’ll here strong echoes. And J.K. Rowling makes a similar point in her description of Harry’s experience at King’s Cross Station in her last book of the Harry Potter series.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...