The bold aim of Hud Hudson's remarkable book is to show that, for all we know, an unabashedly literal account of the Christian doctrines of The Fall and Original Sin is entirely compatible with a modern scientific worldview. This reconciliation occurs by means of the Hypertime Hypothesis—more on that later. Hudson begins with a brief historical survey of how these doctrines, along with the doctrine of Original Guilt, have been understood. He then offers a short survey of how evidence from geology, palaeoanthropology, genetics, and evolutionary biology appears to count against them. In ch. 3, Hudson sets out some concessive strategies that have been developed by defenders of these doctrines to make them more palatable to the scientifically informed mind. At its core, Original Sin maintains that some of our ancestors were corrupted in the Fall, and that as a result, it became likely or certain that they would sin—and that this condition has been passed down to all their descendants. Nonliteral interpretations can say that ‘sin’ is really just our tendency to act aggressively and selfishly (which, after all, conferred certain evolutionary advantages). The literal heritability of sin, meanwhile, can be transmuted into the tendency to imitate bad examples. Likewise, The Fall itself can be dehistoricized and mythologized in various ways. Hudson himself believes that the Adam and Eve story is a myth, but that it does represent an actual historical fall with ruinous consequences. He endorses an account of The Fall and Original Sin developed by Peter van Inwagen. On this view, God miraculously intervened at some point in the evolutionary process, giving some primates rationality, free will and the capacity to love. But they abused these gifts and turned from God, corrupted their own morality and rationality, and, via some genetic process, corrupted their descendants. Chapter 4 is devoted to an extended critique of Michael Rea's defence of Original Guilt—the doctrine that all human beings born after the Fall are guilty of that sin and morally responsible for its consequences. Hudson is charitable in his exegesis, and penetrating in his analysis. He takes pains to point out that his ultimate decision to suspend judgement on this doctrine is due not to some scientific challenge, but rather to severe philosophical obstacles. Chapter 5 sets out the metaphysical motivation for the Hypertime Hypothesis. Hudson notes that four prominent theories in the philosophy of time (Presentism, the Shrinking Block Theory, the Disappearing Branch Theory and the Growing Block theory) all agree that different regions of spacetime exist when different times are present. If these views are all live metaphysical metaphysical possibilities, then why not a Morphing Block—a spatiotemporal block that can grow or shrink at either temporal surface, or can annihilate its inner regions? Such changes, Hudson next argues, require a hypertime against which to index them. Hypertime is not an additional dimension, but rather a receptacle for housing a spacetime (or, as we later learn, multiple spacetimes). Along the way, Hudson discusses many other relevant issues, such as composition, persistence, time travel and personal identity. This discussion is masterful: Hudson is at his best when carefully cataloguing the pros and cons of various metaphysical positions, flagging the intuitions that drive them and pointing out their underlying assumptions. The goal of ch. 6 is to establish the epistemological possibility of the hypertime hypothesis, by showing that no human has the power to know that it is false. Hudson undertakes to do this by considering whether prominent attempts to combat various forms of scepticism can be harnessed to show that the hypertime hypothesis can be known to be false. He argues, with admirable clarity and fair mindedness, that they cannot. The remaining chapters involve applications of the hypertime hypothesis to contested issues in the philosophy of religion. Here I pause to note that the beginning of the book somewhat misrepresents its latter third. The main point turns out to be not just to show that hypertime can rescue a literal understanding of The Fall and Original Sin—it is also to show that hypertime can help understand omnipresence, God's relationship to time and to respond to three arguments for atheism. I will comment only on two of the latter. An important argument for atheism urges that since there is no best of all possible worlds, God cannot exist—roughly because no matter which world God chooses to actualize, God could have chosen better, in which case God could always be better—and that is impossible. Hudson suggests that there really is a best possible world after all: a hypertime comprised of all spacetimes above some axiological threshold of worthiness. If he is right, then this argument for atheism is sidestepped. Although I am sympathetic to this move, I would have liked to see Hudson say more about this threshold. Two questions are especially pressing. First, if the threshold is vague, can there be really any such thing as a hypertime comprised of all the threshold-surpassing spacetimes? Second, is an unsurpassable threshold even possible, given that for any putative one God chooses, it seems he might have chosen a better one instead? Hudson also thinks that hypertime can significantly enhance the sceptical theist's response to the problem of evil. Sceptical theism seeks to block the claim that some evil is unjustified by claiming, for various reasons, that we are not in a position to reasonably believe this. According to Hudson, once we recognize that a hypertime furnished with many spacetimes may contain many goods utterly beyond our ken, we should recognize that some of these may justify God in permitting evil in our own neighbourhood. I’d like to see this discussion developed further, since I think Hudson could to more to show that such recondite goods in hypertime are robust enough to do the needed work. Would it really be enough to say (as Hudson seems to suggest) that a person might be compensated for her suffering in one spacetime in an altogether different spacetime? I, for one, doubt it. The book ends with a surprisingly brief chapter in which hypertime is at last put to work to defend a literal Fall and Original Sin. The story is held to be epistemically possible, and goes like this. At a certain moment in hypertime, God created a spacetime in much the manner described in Genesis, complete with a first pair of humans who rebelled and were driven out of Eden. At precisely that hypermoment, God annihilated every prior piece of the spacetime block, seamlessly replacing it with a new region that includes the exact evolutionary history taught by science. Presto! Hudson rightly expects readers to suspect some trickery here, but, equally rightly, he counsels sustained engagement with the careful argumentation that preceded this move rather than a hasty rejection of it. I will end with a plea: since this story raises many questions about how God's causal power interacts with causation within the block, and since it seems to license scepticism about what ‘really happened’ in the past, more work on these topics would be welcome. That said, this is an outstanding book from a creative and rigorous philosopher, and its arguments deserve careful engagement. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Scots Philosophical Association and the University of St Andrews. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philosophical Quarterly – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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