“I’m a bit confused by your references to ‘metrical conventionalism’. How precisely do they impugn naturalism but not the exegetical methods that scholars employ to, say, date the book of Mark? More specifically, since time is amorphous by your own account, time would be just as much a problem for the bible scholar’s dating techniques as well, no?”
Several issues here:
i) I haven’t committed myself to the position that metrical conventionalism is true. It may be, as Le Poidevin indicates, that the debate between objectivism and conventionalism is undecidable. See p11 of his discussion:
Indeed, you might want to read the whole chapter for basic background info.
But even if the question is undecidable, that’s sufficient to render equally undecidable the implicated question of what would follow if one or the other (objectivism or conventionalism) were true.
Certain consequences would follow if either position were true. But even if, say, objectivism is true, if the truth of objectivism is undecidable, then the consequences are undecidable.
If something is true, but you can’t know it’s true, then it might as well be false. At that point the only rational course of action is to suspend judgment.
ii) Metrical conventionalism is concerned with the question of whether it’s meaningful to ask if to successive intervals (or distances, depending on who you read) are objectively isochronic.
It doesn’t disallow a temporal sequence, involving relations of temporal priority, simultaneity, or posteriority.
iii) There’s more to the dating of the Gospels than the question of relative duration. There’s also the question of relative sequence.
What happened when? Were they written before or after the fall of Jerusalem? Were the Apostles still alive?
Metrical conventionalism doesn’t obviate those internal relations.
iv) If metrical conventionalism is true, it would mean that the chronological descriptions in Scripture are true in relation to the temporal metric employed by Bible writers. They would record an accurate sequence. And the overall chronology would be accurate measurement of the time lapse *according to* the metric in use.
But the measurement would not implicate an absolute or relative chronology in objectivist terms.
The conventionalist/objectivist question is a more specialized question than Scripture was designed to answer.
v) There’s an asymmetry between YEC and evolution. The age of the world is not intrinsically important to Christian theology.
It’s only important in relation to other issues, such as inerrancy, hermeneutics, and special creation.
By contrast, it is intrinsically important to Darwinism, for Darwinism needs huge time scales to even get off the ground. Therefore, Darwinism has a direct investment in chronology in a way that Christian theology does not.
vi) I’m less concerned with defending YEC chronology per se than I am with rebutting bad objections to YEC chronology—objections that are philosophically inept and theologically pernicious.
“Additionally, I’m aware of no time keeping device that does not index itself to some observed phenomenon (spring rates in wind-up clocks, atomic clocks, sundials). Natural phenomena is *all* we have to guide us, so why does the use of ‘natural’ phenomena (to establish the age of the earth, for instance) constitute a weakness of some sort? The notion of time that we *all* use can’t be separated from the periodicities we perceive in the natural world (including crowing roosters, or the rising and setting sun). What else is there?”
i) As I’ve said on several occasions, I have no a priori objection to the use of natural processes to tell us the time. What I object to is critics of YEC who toss around terms like “deception” or “illusion.”
This betrays a fundamental lack of objectivity on their part, in which they conflate the natural function of a natural process with the artificial function we assign to it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the artificial assignment, as long as we recognize the artificiality of the exercise.
But to *expect* that a natural periodic process ought to yield accurate chronological information, and if it doesn’t, then God is deceiving us or nature is illusory, is guilty of an anthropomorphic projection onto nature. That’s philosophically naïve.
ii) In addition, physical dating involves a backward linear extrapolation from the present into the past.
Once again, I don’t object to that type of retrojection up to a point. But this procedure makes certain assumptions about the initial conditions and uniformity of nature.
Yet, from a theological perspective, that is guilty of an overgeneralization. For the physical universe is not a uniform, open-ended continuum.
Rather, the universe had a point of origin in a timeless act of fiat creation. It is not the result of a purely incremental, bottom-up process. Rather, it was front-loaded and instantaneous.
Therefore, the backward extrapolation breaks down. For the extrapolation is an extrapolation from natural cycles. It takes for granted the existence of natural cycles.
But running the cycle back in time is internal to the cycle. It doesn’t take you outside the cycle to the external origin of the cycle.
“More to the point, according to my understanding, a rooster and a cuckoo clock are essentially the same: both are time keeping devices identified by humans to keep time quite reliably (though neither perfectly) and both are based on processes that are thoroughly naturalistic.”
No, a cuckoo clock was designed to tell the time. That’s its only or primary function. And since we designed it for that very purpose, we’re in a good position to say so.
But a rooster was not designed to tell us the time. Now, we can still use the rooster *as if* it were an alarm clock.
But if a rooster fails to crow at the right time, it’s not as if God would be deceiving us or periodic processes are illusory.
It would simply mean that since a rooster wasn’t designed to be a reliable time-keeper, then if a rooster turns out to be an unreliable alarm clock, it’s chronological utility is limited.
We wouldn’t expect a rooster to be completely reliable as an alarm clock. It is simply convenient for us to co-opt its natural tendency to crow at sunrise to tell us the time.
“Also, teleology is enthusiastically accepted by science (methodological naturalism). Remember those spears we were talking about from 375,000 years ago that got dug up. Those spears were identified as the target of teleology -- a goal-oriented effort on the part of the makers to fashion raw materials into spears. Arson investigators and homicide detectives work at determining whether teleology (human planning and execution) was at work in starting the fire or causing the victim's death. Oh, and of course SETI looks for teleology in communications or modulated phenomena. You get the idea -- teleology is not forbidden as a factor in science.”
In context, the discussion was over inanimate, naturally occurring events like radiation and ice sheets, not the intervention of rational agents. As usual, you can’t follow an argument.
“But if scientific estimates *do* have some correspondance to reality -- something we can rely on, then, how does a YEC dispose of all the estimates that come in at hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of years?”
Metrical conventionalism is one consideration, while creation ex nihilo is another.