A Physicist's Glimpse of God

Professor Paul Bender, Ph.D.
Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana

There are two sources of human knowledge. The one of these is purely human whereby knowledge is obtained through human observation, experimentation and reasoning by the method commonly called the scientific method. This is the only source commonly considered valid in current intellectual circles, and the entire body of knowledge commonly accepted by the present intellectual world has been accumulated by this process. This knowledge is cumulative and is growing rapidly, perhaps more rapidly at the present time than ever before in human history. When God told Adam and Eve to "replenish the earth and subdue it", I think He had in mind not only that man should dominate the animal life on earth, and that he should exploit the natural resources of the earth but also that he should accumulate knowledge about the created universe, and should use this knowledge for his own purposes.

The other source of knowledge is Divine revelation. God has spoken to man in order that He might show to man who He is, what is His character, and what is His purpose in creation, as well as His purpose and plan for man himself. This revelation has come to man through God's inspiration of writers of the Holy Scriptures, and also, in its supreme form in the coming of God himself to the earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This is an important source of knowledge, giving to us information that could not have been obtained through the human source. The knowledge thus made available is essential to our present and ultimate well being. It is also necessary for giving proper interpretation to the knowledge obtained through the human source.
From these two sources are obtained bodies of knowledge which, in the final analysis, are in perfect agreement with each other and are supplementary to each other. Knowledge from each source will illuminate and interpret that from the other. This follows from the very nature of truth, because truth must agree with itself from whatever source it comes. Experience has also amply demonstrated that truth revealed in the Bible agrees perfectly with the truth obtained by human reasoning, when that reasoning is correctly done.

On the one hand, God's revelation gives meaning to the universe about which man is attempting to obtain information. The Bible points the way to a correct interpretation of the universe and is a good source for suggestions as to lines of approach for research regarding the ultimate character and history of the universe.

On the other hand, human knowledge also illuminates God's revelation. For example the remarkable harmony found in all creation gives meaning to God's statement concerning His creation that He "saw that it was good." Also, the knowledge modern science has accumulated regarding living organism, particularly to the nature of species and the laws of heredity, gives meaning to the story of creation in which it is specifically stated thnt all animals were created "after their kind."

An interesting example of the manner in which human knowledge confirms the revelation of God's creation is found in the reasoning of the physicist-philosopher, Sir James Jeans. In an effort to explain the nature of matter, physicists came to the conclusion that a mathematical statement of the nature of matter was the only adequate explanation possible. Since mathematics is the product of pure reasoning, and reasoning is an activity of the mind, Jeans arrives at the conclusion that behind the universe there is a reasoning mind similar to the human mind, which is the ultimata cause of matter. In other words, he concludes that there must be a personal Creator. This, however, is as far as human reasoning can go. It is necessary for us to learn from revelation who the Creator is and what are His characteristics.

The present discussion proposes to point out another line of reasoning, in which some of the findings of physics are used to determine something of the character of the Creator of the universe.

The physicist looks upon the physical universe as being composed of three fundamental quantities: space, mass and time. Each of those quantities is measurable, and the commonly used units of measurement are the centimeter, gram and second, or more recently, the meter, kilogram and second, respectively. All other quantities in the physical universe are derived from these three; for example, velocity is a combination of space and time, being the time rate of motion in space. The many other quantities used to interpret and describe the physical universe are similarly derived as combinations of two or more of those fundamental quantities.

Space is three-dimensional, having length, breadth and depth. Time is one-dimensional, extending from the past through the present to the future. Intuitively we think of mass as being located within the framework of space and continuing throughout time. We thus isolate the three fundamental quantities, thinking of them as being independent of each other.

We as humans are limited in each of these three quantities. We ordinarily think of being most strictly limited in time. Time marches on inexorably and we are entirely powerless to alter our position in time. We must live in each particular moment as it comes and we are carried forward in the stream of time without the least ability to increase or decrease its pace. We cannot project ourselves into the past nor into the future.

We are also extremely limited in space, although here we feel a certain amount of freedom in that we are at liberty to move about from place to place. For instance, each of us, on his own volition, determined to travel from his home to Grand Rapids. We felt perfectly free to make this decision and to execute the journey. However, it was absolutely necessary in making this journey that we should traverse all the intervening space. We had to cover every foot of the way from home to Grand Rapids. Before starting the journey, we could in our mind imagine ourselves at Grand Rapids, but we were perfectly powerless to realize that imagined fact without first traversing the intervening space.

We are also limited by mass. Each of us, as a human personality, lives within a physical body, and the physical body places very real limitations on our activities. We must live within the framework of space, time and mass with certain definite limitations imposed upon us by each of these quantities.

Another simplifying approach made to the physical universe by physicists is to consider that everything thin the framework of space and time can be thought of as composed of two entities, mass and energy. These two entities can never be dealt with entirely indeondcntly of each other. That is, mass must always be thought of as having energy associated with it, both in the gross manifestations of mass as well as in the ultimate dynamic nature of matter itself. On the other hand, energy is known and can be studied only as it manifests itself in matter. Radiation may be thought of as pure energy, but even radiation cannot be detected or studied apart from its effect upon matter. This classification into mass and energy is less fundamental and less comprehensive than the simpler classification into space, time and mass. It is, however, fundamentally valid, particularly for large scale phenomena, as evidenced by the laws of conservation of mass and energy, which are extremely fundamental and general in their application.

The famous Michelson-Merely experiment, in which an effort was made to measure a change in the velocity of light with a change in the velocity of the observer, and which led to a purely negative result, opened the way to a new approach to the study of the fundamental quantities of the physical universe. In an effort to interpret the negative result of the experiment, there was finally developed what is known as Emstein's relativity theory. This theory links together intimately the space and time entities, and the mass and energy entities.

We are accustomed to thinking of a wave motion, such as sound, as traveling with a definite velocity in such a way that the velocity of arrival at an observer is changed by the velocity of the observer. That is, if the observer approaches the source of sound, the apparent velocity of the sound is increased, whereas if he recedes from the source, its apparent velocity is decreased.
This is not true with light. As the observer approaches the source of light or recedes from it, his measured velocity of the light is the same. The reluctance with which we accept this fact results from our own limitations in being a part of the system which we are attempting to interpret. If it were possible for us to obtain a perspective where we would observe the system externally, these limitations would be removed. However, it is necessary for us to examine the universe from our own vantage point within it.

The ultimate result of the fact of the constancy of the velocity of light is that the velocity of light is an essential feature of the universe.

Velocity is a derived quantity, involving both space and time. The relationship referred to would seem to point to the fact that those two fundamental quantities are interrelated and not independent. In fact, Einstein's relativity theory links them together. Instead of the three-dimensional space and the one-dimensional time, the two are tied together in a four-dimensional relationship. This seems to us to be a strange relationship because we are accustomed to freedom of motion within each of the three space dimensions, but to no freedom whatsoever within the time dimension, whereas the four dimensional relationship of the relativity concept would seem to permit equal freedom in each of the four dimensions.

Mass is also included in this interrelationship. One of the most significant results of the Einstein study was the conclusion that there was a relationship between energy and mass having the square of the velocity of light as a proportionality constant. No longer can we consider that energy and mass are independent quantities, each with its own fundamental law of conservation, as earlier postulated. Mass and energy are now known to be interchangeable, and the two conservation laws are merged into one law of conservation of the total mass-energy content of the universe.

This truth has opened up many new areas of understanding of the universe. For instance, the radiated energy of the stars, including our sun, has as its source the mass of the stars. In the area of the understanding of matter itself, it is now evident that this relationship is very fundamental to the structure and behavior of the atom. The electrical nature of matter, including the fact of the positive charge on the atomic nucleus and the negative charge on the orbital electrons, was a very fruitful concept in interpreting the extra-nuclear behavior of the atom, but was entirely baffling in attempting to understand the nucleus itself in which many positive charges with tremendous forces of repulsion actually were held together in a stable combination. We now know that the formation and the decomposition of the atomic nucleus involves a mass-energy transition in such a way that the ultimate nature of the stability of the atomic nucleus must result from a maximum energy relationship in which the energy changes are accomplished at the expense of the mass of the nuclear material.

Those relationships strike at the very heart of the problem of the ultimate nature of the universe. They reveal that we cannot think of the universe as composed of three more or lees independent entities in which we intuitively think of mass as being independently placed within space, and of time as moving forward without any essential connection with either space or mass. We have been forced to recognize that these intuitive concepts are inadequate and that there is only one basic entity which we see in the triple aspect of space, mass and time. Because we are a part of this universe, we can only with difficulty assume an imaginary external viewpoint from which we attempt to examine and understand the real character of the universe. If it were possible for us to stand off without limitations of space, time, or matter, and see the universe, many of these difficulties would no doubt disappear. It is just this detached viewpoint, however, which the Creator must of necessity have in producing and sustaining the creation. We may be able to get some small glimpse of the Creator as we attempt to interpret the universe from such a vantage point.

The Creator must, of necessity, be free from the limitations of the universe which He creates. An understanding of these limitations and of the situation in which the Croator is free from the limitations will give us some information as to the character of the Creator. God will not be limited by time as we are. He will not be limited by space, nor will he be limited by the matter which is a part of his creation. Let us examine briefly each of these three freedoms.

When God replied to Moses' request as to how he should tell the children of Israel who God was, He told Moses to say, "I am that I am." When Jesus was defending his own identity before the Jews who were questioning his authority, he said, "Before Abraham was, I am." Each of thse statements is best interpreted as meaning that God is timeless. In other words, God is beyond the limitations of time. He is not carried forward with the flow of time between the future and the past as are we. He can grasp at one swoop the entire scope of time, and can, without hindrance, see and direct whatever is happening at any period of time. Peter said, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." In other words, time has no such meaning to God as it does to us.

Since God is free from time, it is absurd to speak of any beginning or ending of His existence. Neither is eternity, then, a matter of infinite existence in the past and continued infinite existence in the future, but merely of a timeless existence. With this viewpoint, eternity takes on a new meaning. Eternity is not an endless existence in which one always exists in the present with time flowing on for an infinitely long period, but simply a freedom from the stream of time which carries the universe forward.

We speak of God as being everywhere present. This is merely a way of saying that he is not limited by space. God can comprehend all of space without the necessity of concentrating on any one place or of moving his attention or his presence from one place to another. He is completely free from the necessity of existence within a particular portion of space such as we are. The place of God's existence, therefore, has no meaning in that His existence is beyond place.

Similarly, God is not limited by mass or matter. He is not composed of matter with its limitations of inertia and spatial and temporal existence. He does not have a body in the sense that we as humans must live in a physical body.

These views are necessitated by the fact that God is the Creator of the universe He must of necessity be superior to his creation and to its space, time and mass limitations. The fact that the space, time and matter existence of the universe is not a triple existence but a unit existence, in which the three entities are thoroughly integrated into the make-up of the universe, helps us to recognize that God's existence is entirely beyond the limitations of these three entities as we usually think of them. Also the unity of the physical universe points to the necessity of a single act of creation of this physical universe, including not a temporal creation of matter within
space, but a simultaneous creation of time, space, and matter.

This view will be further clarified and will also shed light on our own existence if we examine our own eternal existence in the light both of the viewpoint presented here and of the teachings of God's revelation. God has stated that man is created in the image of God. We take this to mean that man has a personality similar to that of God and capable of fellowship with Him. In his present existence, however, man is limited by the limitations of the universe in space, time and matter. It is clearly stated, however, that man ultimately has a possibility of existence with God. Man's eternal existence will then take the form of complete identity with the nature of God and fellowship with Him. This existence must, therefore, be one in which limitations of space, time and matter are removed. Eternity will then become not a question of infinitely long time, but merely of timeless existence in which there will be no past, present, nor future. The place of this existence will also have no meaning in the sense of being somewhere in space. Conjectures as to where heaven is are, therefore, meaningless because the eternal existence will also be free from the limitations of matter. The glorified body of our existence will not be made of atoms and molecules, but will be, like God, completely without matter as we know it in the universe.

From this view, creation was not an act of the formation of mass within a previously existing framework of space and time, but was rather the formation of the universe as a whole, which, of necessity, brought into existence simultaneously the continuum which we now know as space, time and matter. Since it is impossible to describe the universe without having these three supposedly independent quantities very definitely interrelated, it is also impossible to think of either one of them existing without the others. By that same process of reasoning, we can conceive of this created universe not only to have had a beginning with the beginning of time, but also to come to an end with the end of time. In other words, the entire span of time must be contained in the existence of the universe and will not contain an eternity. If time and the universe of which it is a part come to an end, then there will remain the timeless existence of God and the creature he has created in his own image. The mysteries of this existence can be understood here and now only through the revelation God has chosen to give to us. This revelation gives us the assurance, however, that our existence is like His. We are promised eternal life, beginning now. This means that if we are in accord and in fellowship with God that this fellowship has a continuous existence. We may think of this existence as having two aspects, the first in time, and the second in timeless eternity. So long as our existence is in time, we are limited by the limitations imposed upon the universe of time, space and matter. After deliverance from these limitations, this existence will be like that of God himself where the limitations are removed. The Apostle John gives us a view of this existence with God when he says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of Gods and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him."