- Theological creationism is roughly the view that God created the world literally as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. In chapter 1, over a period of six days, God creates the heavens, the earth, and the animals and plants within it, by merely saying and intending that it should be so. On the seventh day - the Sabbath - God rests. In chapter 2, we hear about the first man, Adam, created by God out of dust, and the first woman, Eve, created by God from the chest of Adam. According to this story, the Earth is not billions of years old but merely a few thousand. According to this story, all of the species on earth today have been continually present since the Earth was first created and are not the product of an extended period of evolution. According to this story, the sun and the planets were created by divine commandment and were not a causal consequence of any big bang.
- Perhaps, centuries ago, theological creationism provided a psychologically satisfying explanation for the existence of the universe and the life within it at a time when no alternative reasonable explanation was available. But the explanation, even before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, was a failure. For the hypothesis is more mysterious than the phenomena it seeks to explain. Little wonder, then, that no serious academic publication today defends the view1.
- Creationism about fictional characters is the view that fictionalia are created not by God but by the authors of the novels in which they first appear. According to this theory, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were created by the author J. K. Rowling. Indeed, Rowling somehow created a vast multitude of fictional individuals - and a "magical" world, Hogwarts, where, we are told, they all inhabit. Moreover, she did all this by simply saying or intending that it be so. But unlike its religious counterpart, creationism about fictional characters does not seek to explain anything like the same sort of phenomena. No one has ever seen anyone with all of the properties ascribed to Harry in the famous Rowling novels; no one has ever had any tangible evidence at all that a school like Hogwarts exists. And yet strangely, the view has significantly more intellectual respectability than the theological alternative.
- In this essay I explain why creationism about fictional characters is an abject failure. It suffers from the same problem as theological creationism: the purported explanation is more mysterious than the data it seeks to explain. Unlike theological creationism, though, the phenomenon to be accounted for is not particularly mysterious in the first place. This uniquely philosophical variety of creationism does not explain why there is something rather than nothing, or why the universe and elements within it have the appearance of design, or why some people have apparent experiences of a creator. Instead, creationism about fictional characters is put forward as the best explanation for why people occasionally say things that, if taken at face value, seem to entail that fictional characters exist and are created by their authors. One might wonder if taking the folk at their word in this way is appropriate, particularly when the same individuals deny these entailments when asked explicitly about them. One might already suspect that a better explanation, then, is that the folk are mistaken, or pretending, or speaking metaphorically, or speaking elliptically.
- I will not be exploring the merits of these alternative explanations, here, however. Instead I will attempt to show that when the details of creationism about fictional characters are filled in, the hypothesis becomes far more puzzling than the linguistic data it is used to explain.
The basic idea is that no matter how the creationist identifies where, when, and how fictional objects are created, the proposal conflicts with other strong intuitions we have about fictional characters.
- In section 1, I explain and motivate the target creationist view.
- In section 2, I outline some earlier critiques of the view and explain why they are inadequate as they stand.
- In sections 3 and 4, I outline my case against creationism.
- Jeff Goodman (personal correspondence) has raised the following objection to this claim. One may think that theological creationism is a failure from a theoretical standpoint only if there is some rival explanation on offer for the appearance of design in the universe that introduces less mystery. But if an explanation is needed, and no rivals are on offer, or there are some on offer, but they are all more mysterious, then it is rational to be a theological creationist. Moreover, it seems as though there may have been a time prior to 1859 when that was the case.
- My response is to deny Goodman's initial premise. Theological creationism would have been a failure even if there were no better rival explanations on offer. The reason is that the purported explanation in terms of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, omnificent creator is more baffling and introduces more mystery than the observations we sought to explain in the first place.
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