The Corner

Relativity and the Prelate

A couple of points on relativity / relativism

(1) Neither the special nor the general theory of relativity asserted that “everything is relative.” All they did was to replace a model of physical reality built around

• three-dimensional absolute space and one-dimensional absolute time

with a different model built around

• four-dimensional absolute spacetime

Relativistic physics is just as “absolutist” as Newtonian physics; it just shifts the absolutism up a dimension. You could argue, in fact, that since Special Relativity employs preferred frames of reference, that theory is less relativistic than Newtonianism, in which one frame is as good as another!

(2) I think the Pope has a bit of a nerve railing against a “dictatorship of relativism.” What is more relativistic than religion? If I go to study astronomy (or biology, or chemistry) at a univerity in Athens, Benares, or Cairo, I shall learn the same things in all three places. The truths of science are universal. If, however, I were to go to study theology in those three places, I would learn three utterly different sets of “truths.” The truths of religion are place-dependent. How is that not “relativistic”?

And religious truth is relative in time as well as in place, unless you want to tell me that the teachings of the Pope’s church are exactly the same now as they were 500, 1000, or 1500 years ago. “Relativism”? Please.


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