Saturday, May 01, 2010

Last Thursdayism

Young-earth creationism is sometimes satirized as Last Thursdayism. But there are several problems with this attempt to lampoon YEC. For now I’ll focus on just two:

1. To be a successful parody, Last Thursdayism has to be genuinely analogous with YEC. But to the extent that the two positions are genuinely analogous, then Last Thursdayism fails to demonstrate the absurdity of YEC. For it’s simply a variation on the same theme. A different way of saying much the same thing. And such, the criticism is circular. If you already think that YEC is ludicrous, then you will think that Last Thursdayism is a clever reductio ad absurdum. But unless you already view YEC as ludicrous, then Last Thursdayism simply begs the question. It doesn’t actually show why YEC is ridiculous. Rather, it tacitly takes that for granted. But the reasoning is reversible. If YEC is not ridiculous, then a YEC analogue is not ipso facto ridiculous either.

2. In addition, absurdity can be context-dependent. Consider an analogue to Last Thursdayism. I wake up in a hospital bed. I don’t remember how I got there. The nurse calls the doctor.

A neurosurgeon comes into my room. He begins to ask me a few simple questions. What year is this? Who’s the president of the United States?

After I answer his questions, he tells me that my memory is faulty or out of date. Maybe I’ve been in a coma for the past 10 years. Or maybe I suffered brain damage in a traffic accident which left me with some degree of amnesia.

Under those circumstances, I may be living the equivalent of Last Thursdayism. Life began for me when I woke up from my coma (or brain surgery). I’ve lost the distinction between my past and my present. Perhaps I retain my long-term memory, but not my short-term memory. Or perhaps I retain my short-term memory, but not my long-term memory. Perhaps I retain a few flashbulb memories.


  1. But to the extent that the two positions are genuinely analogous, then Last Thursdayism fails to demonstrate the absurdity of YEC.

    Last Thursdayism isn't meant to critique YEC generally, it's meant to critique the Omphalaos interpretation of the evidence for the age of an old earth (i.e. things like God planting trees complete with annual tree rings at the moment of creation, God brining light from distant stars to Earth instantly, or even God fiddling with radioactive decay, thus giving the Earth and Universe an "aged" appearance). If there is nothing epistemically incoherent with saying that the earth is 6000 years old, despite appearances that it is much older, then it would be equally valid to say that the Earth is a week old, despite appearances that it is much older. The point is that if you find the latter belief absurd, then you should find the former as well.

    If you believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, and that it actually APPEARS 6,000 years old, other critiques might apply, but not Last Thursdayism.

    So it's meant to argue against a certain kind of YECism, not YECism in general.

  2. It's an attempt to parody both YEC chronology in general as well as the Gossean variant according to which God created the fossil record ex nihilo.

  3. The Last Thursday analogy doesn't work. The Bible gives evidence for a 6,000 year old Earth, but nothing about the Earth created a few hours ago.

  4. True, there's a big difference between the credibility of a mere logical possibility, and the credibility of logical possibility for which we have positive evidence.

  5. Besides the point Van Der Sterren made (the bible provides evidence of a real history), the above comment by Logan seems problematic for other reasons. 6 thousand years is long enough time to account for a great many things I experience. It implies my history is actual, same with my parents, and theirs too. Family history happened. The joy at births was real, for example. Same with mundane things like cars, buildings, etc. Same with all the grass I see on people's front lawns, and their houses too, and them, my neighbors. Indeed, the majority of what I experience fits into the 6000 year time frame. Now, there may be *some* things that I experience which carry only mere appearance of age, but that's better than *everything* coming that way. Why would the fact that some things in my experience don't have actual histories be "just as absurd" as all things lacking histories, especially if those things most important to me have real histories. Clearly, I shouldn't find a belief in a yong earth absurd just if I find last thursdayism absurd.