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Drees, Willem B. “A Case Against Temporal Critical Realism? Consequences of Quantum Cosmology for Theology."

It is Wim Drees’ argument that, unlike other topics in science, Big Bang and quantum cosmology are equally compatible with a timeless, static view of the universe and a temporal, dynamic view. Critical realists must face this ambiguity squarely. If they want to make the ontological claim that nature is temporal they must relinquish the epistemological claim for the hierarchical unity of the sciences by leaving out relativity and cosmology (due to this ambiguity). Yet this is problematic to realists, for where both ontological and hierarchical claims are pivotal. Drees himself sees the timeless character of cosmology as more compatible with a Platonizing tendency in theology, in which God is timelessly related to the world rather than temporally related via specific divine acts in the world.

Drees begins by defining “temporal critical realism” as the combination of critical realism with an evolutionary view of the world and a temporal understanding of God. The Big Bang appears at first to offer just such a highly dynamic worldview consistent with temporal critical realism. However its underlying theories (special relativity and general relativity) undercut this dynamic perspective, challenging universal simultaneity and re-interpreting time as an internal, rather than an external, parameter. Quantum cosmology, and its underlying theory, quantum gravity, further challenge the dynamic view of nature. Although they overcome the problem of the singularity at t=0, quantum cosmology and quantum gravity offer an even less temporal view of nature than does relativity, since they move from a four-dimensional spacetime perspective into a three-dimensional, spatial perspective in which time plays a minimal role at best.

Critical realists such as Barbour, Peacocke and Polkinghorne have been careful to avoid theological speculations about t=0, recognizing that its status is controversial and subject to the shift in theories. However, they have not been equally attentive to the challenge to temporality per se by special relativity and general relativity, let alone by quantum cosmology and quantum gravity. Moreover, Drees claims the latter ought not be dismissed merely because they are speculative. Such a strategy to insulate temporal critical realism is ad hoc, since temporal critical realists are already committed epistemologically to a hierarchical unity of the sciences, and thus changes - even if only potential ones - at the fundamental level of the hierarchy carry enormous epistemic leverage. For its part, the timeless character of physics and cosmology leads us to view God in more Platonic terms. Drees explores this option in some detail, including the problem of divine action, the arguments for viewing God as an explanation of the universe, and the constructivist view of science as myth. He concludes by suggesting that axiology may be a more apt focus for theology than cosmology, and this in turn would lessen the impact science has on theology.

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