jesus_dinosaurI promise this series of diaries will come to an end soon, but for the moment I soldier on.

One of the most striking moments in the first chapter of Meillassoux’s After Finitude occurs when he equates correlationism with the philosophical equivalent of young earth creationism. Given that it is very likely that the vast majority of philosophers take a very dim view of young earth creationism, this comparison cannot but seem like a rhetorical low blow. Yet is there something to it? Is there validity in this comparison.

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If this comparison is apt, it would be along two fronts: First, strictly speaking, young earth creationism is irrefutable. When I was in High School, a very good Christian fundamentalist friend of mine and I would debate endlessly about the theory of evolution. I would cite the standard arguments about the fossil record, rates of carbon decay, etc., and he would cite his scripture. I’ll never forget my shock when, one day, after years of debate, he triumphantly declared that God put fossils in the earth to test our faith. In other words, his thesis was that God created the world 6000 years ago in such a way that there were already fossils in the world, in such a way that radioactive isotopes would appear to indicate that the world was much more ancient than the Biblical account, and so on. Regardless of how much evidence you might trot out, my friend was capable of evoking this kind of logic and therefore always winning the day.

This strategy of argument is analogous to that of correlationism. Like the creationist, the correlationist need only show some relationship between thought and world to make his case. Since whatever we happen to think about is something that we are thinking about, the correlationist always wins the day. Of course, the correlationist goes one step further and claims that not only is whatever we think about something we’re thinking about, but also asserts that we can never know whether that object we are thinking about has the properties we think it has in itself and independent of us. With the correlationist it doesn’t matter how much evidence you bring up from neurology, genetics, times predating the existence of human beings, etc., thought will always trump this evidence such that the relation between thought and object is unidirectional: thought —> object, where thought determines the object never the object thought.

This brings me to the second similarity between correlation and creationism. In defending his position, the creationist contents himself with pointing out the problems or gaps in evolutionary theory, rather than developing a positive theory of his own. The creationist will point out how there are missing links in the fossil record. The creationist will point out potential flaws in carbon dating. The creationist will devise mathematical equations intended to demonstrate that the emergence of complexity such as we find in the eye is so mathematically improbable that it is highly unlikely it could have evolved.

The correlationist proceeds in a very similar way. Rather than developing a positive theory of their own (okay that’s not entirely fair), the correlationist proceeds by pointing out problems with the realist position. The correlationist will contend that the realist cannot, for example, account for induction or the necessity of causal laws. The correlationist will point out that in order for the neurologist to study the brain he must first have concepts of what he is studying. A very vulgar correlationist will sometimes point out that our theories about things are sometimes mistaken, and so on. In other words, we get the same sort of argument from flaws in the other position to the truth of the alternative position as a way of defending correlationism. And since the correlationist has concluded that thought always trumps objects, they then feel dismissed in ignoring science altogether.

Implicit in this sort of argument seems to be an anxiousness about knowledge. On the one hand, both positions seem preoccupied with certainty. Rather than seeing knowledge as a very slow and laborious process, the process of knowing is ignored and knowledge is restricted to the proposition and the question of whether the proposition is true or false. On the other hand, there seems to be an anxiety at the thought that the world is a very foreign and strange place, largely indifferent to human beings. Both positions seem to want to place humans at the center of the world and to insure that humans are included at the heart of all things. For the creationist humans are at the heart of all things as Genesis tells us that all things were created for us and we are the pinnacle of creation. For the correlation humans are at the center of all things because thought is included in the constitution of every object of knowledge as an object of knowledge, such that we can never know whether the object has these properties independent of us and in-themselves. Might we not reject the arguments of correlationism, even if irrefutable, for the same reasons that no one, save other creationists and beleaguered voters dealing with school boards packed with fundamentalists seeking to change curriculum, takes seriously the arguments of creationists?

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