A Christian Perspective on Time
P.O. Box 427
Scottsdale, AZ 85252
From PSCF 42 (September 1990): 177-179.
I was pleasantly surprised to read the review (March 1990) of S. W. Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time. The Christian view of science is usually presented in terms of creation versus evolution and leaves the impression that this is the only topic of importance to us. Physics is fascinating too, and there are plenty of scriptural issues raised by nuclear theory, quantum mechanics, and Special and General Relativity. All of these theories, I believe, suffer from a flawed view of time, and so I would like to say a bit more on that topic.
When God created the universe, he needed a way of depicting "separateness." He apparently created space and time to meet this requirement. Space and time are thus not a "connecting medium" as modern physics depicts them. Instead, they represent discontinuities. Objects or events are separated (not connected) by space and time.
Both space and time apparently progress. We are familiar with the progression of time but space itself apparently expands or progresses also. This would explain why redshifts predominate in our universe, and why the redshifts increase with distance. Perhaps this is also why the Bible uses the term "stretching out the heavens" so many times. (Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13, Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15, Psalm 104:2, Job 26:7, 9:8, 37:18, Zechariah 12:1)
If space progresses, we may ask, does space progress with respect to time? Is the ratio a constant? The appearance of the speed in fundamental equations like E=mc2 and E=cB implies that there is such a thing as a physical space/time ratio and that it progresses at a fixed rate. This "progressive space-time" is "physical" in the sense that matter and energy are physical (the equations must balance dimensionally); it is not the same as reference-frame space and time.
This natural association of space/time units would represent the "nothing" datum for the physical universe. Departures from this speed would then be "not-nothings." The Rydberg fundamental ¨frequency, for instance, would represent a class of entities known as photons.
Time is scalar in these equations, but the constancy of the speed of light, as well as the separability aspect, imply that time must also have the property of "dimensionality" like space.
Picture two photons moving directly away from each other. The photons move through coordinate time as well as through coordinate space. When the total space traversed by the two photons is divided by the true magnitude of the total coordinate time traversed, the ratio will always be a constant. In this case, the separation rate would be computed as c, rather than 2c. This would explain the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment, as well as DeSitter's problem and Bradley's stellar aberration.
The temporal and spatial aspects of photon motion are not adequately depicted by the conventional reference system. If two photons originate in the same event (as in electron-positron annihilation), they would remain within the same time unit even though they become spatially separated. They are thus "together" in the temporal sense, though "separate" in the spatial sense. From a conventional standpoint, this situation will lead directly to the classical paradox with its seeming problems of action-at-a-distance and existence-because-of-measurement.1
Speeds in coordinate time would have no velocity or positional component in a spatial reference system. If entities in such a temporal system were to enter our spatial system, they would appear to pop in anywhere (even miles underground) and fly off in random directions. Cosmic rays are particles that have this "homogeneous and isotropic" property. The non-localized microwave "background radiation" the astronomers detect is a candidate too, except that high energy photons would also have to be part of the background.
Phenomena in physics that show causality, but not determinacy, may also involve spatial/temporal (or vector/scalar) transformations. Suppose a photon strikes an atom and is absorbed by it. The atom can retain the energy for a period of time and then emit photon(s) equivalent to the original energy and in direction(s) that appear random. The first event causes, but does not determine the second event. In this example, some information (the direction of the original photon) seems to get lost. Other information (the time delay and the direction of the subsequent photon) seems to originate out of nowhere. There are many situations like this in physics and they are very hard to explain in terms of actual, microphysical mechanisms. If an engineer had to design and build an atom to do this kind of thing, he would have a very tough time even coming up with a workable conceptual scheme!
Physicists generally have not been enlightened by scriptural reasoning and frequently draw conclusions that would be hard for a Christian to accept. Quantum theory, for instance, presents this picture of reality:
The physicist thus finds himself in a world from which the bottom has dropped clean out; as he penetrates deeper and deeper it eludes him and fades away by the highly unsportsmanlike device of just becoming meaningless. No refinement of measurement will avail to carry him beyond the portals of this shadowy domain which he cannot even mention without logical inconsistency. A bound is thus forever set to the curiosity of the physicist.... The world is not a world of reason, understandable by the intellect of man, but as we penetrate ever deeper, the very law of cause and effect...<|>ceases to have meaning. The world is not intrinsically reasonable or understandable; it acquires these properties in ever-increasing degree as we ascend from the realm of the very little to the realm of everyday things; here we may eventually hope for an understanding sufficiently good for all practical purposes, but no more. (Reflections of a Physicist, P.W. Bridgman, 1955, pp. 185-186)
When we thought we were studying an external world our data were simply our observations; the world was an inference from them. Until this century it was possible to make such an inference intelligibly.... But now we find that...we can no longer express them as the structure of an external world unless we accept a world which is arbitrary, irrational and largely unknowable. (The Scientific Adventure, Herbert Dingle, 1953, p. 261)
The "real" world is not only unknown and unknowable, but inconceivable-that is to say, contradictory or absurd. (A Century of Science, Herbert Dingle, 1951, p. 315)
Insistence on the postulate of complete logical clarification would make science impossible. (Physics and Philosophy, Werner Heisenberg, 1958, p. 86)
We have to admit that our conception of material reality today is more wavering and uncertain than it has been for a long time.... To construct a clear, easily comprehensible picture on which all physicists would agree-that is simply impossible. Physics stands at a grave crisis of ideas.... We hope that the present fluctuations of thinking are only indications of an upheaval of old beliefs which in the end will lead to something better than the mess of formulas which today surrounds our subject. ("What Is Matter?", Erwin Schrodinger, Scientific American, Sept. 1953, pp. 52ff.)
Is this the kind of universe God would make for us? Our God is a God of "lovingkindness, justice and righteousness.... His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.... God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Deuteronomy 32:4, 1 John 1:5 NASB). Would this God of love create us in His image and then put us into a nightmare universe that is "highly unsportsmanlike" and "arbitrary, irrational and largely unknowable" (1 John 4:16, Genesis 1:26)?
It does not matter to God whether the things of creation are very small or very large, for "nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before [his] eyes" (Hebrews 4:13, NIV). His values are consistently expressed in all that He does, for He is "the Father of all lights, with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency" (James 1:17, Phillips). These statements lead us to believe that the physical universe is entirely rational and understandable from the human standpoint. We would apparently even be intuitively comfortable with the unanalyzable portions of it, though this is not the situation in physics today.
The Bible does not leave us wondering about the properties of God's physical creation. It comments on such matters explicitly: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.... How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all" (Psalm 19:1-3, NASB, 104:24, NIV). The study of God's works is highly appropriate: "Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them" (Psalm 111:2). "He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work.... Stand and consider the wonders of God. Do you know how God establishes them?" (Job 37:7,14-15).
It is to Job in particular that God asks questions about His physical creation: "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?... Where is the way that the light is divided?... Where is the way to the dwelling of light?" (Job 38:33,24,19). These must be "fair" questions. That is, they must have answers that would be understandable to us. This is especially so since God describes himself as the God of Light. If light could prove to be "contradictory or absurd," God would surely have used a different metaphor!
Moreover, God reveals these things even to unbelievers, and not as an afterthought, but on purpose: "What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20, NIV).
Modern theoretical physics seems to want to change that clear picture. In the physics of this century we are told that space is curved and time is warped. In nature itself "everything is relative" (without absolute magnitudes, properties, etc.). We are told that common sense must be discarded, rules of ordinary logic don't work, uncertainty is elevated to a Principle, and proofs are done by paradox method. On closer examination we frequently find "facts" that turn out to be theories. We find instances of proof-of-theory turning out to be proof-of-postulate (the starting point of the theory, not the end point). We find validation of mathematics being construed as proof of conceptual interpretation. We even find facts being corrected to fit the theory instead of the theory being corrected to fit the facts. One is left with the impression that Christians aren't the only ones who may be "carried away by varied and strange teachings" (Hebrews 13:9).
Christians have lots of experience in dealing with very difficult problems. They have to watch out "for false Christs and false prophets [who] will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead" (Matthew 24:24, 4-5, 7:15-27). They have to watch out for the "empty deception according to the tradition of men" (Colossians 2:8, Matthew 23:1-36) as well as that of Satan "who deceives the whole world" through his various constructs (Revelation 12:9, 13:14, 18:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Paul shows that these are real problems affecting actual people (1 Timothy 4:1-6, 2 Timothy 3:13).
Christianity was imbued with methods to deal with these problems. Christians knew that "the naive believes everything. But the prudent man considers his steps" (Proverbs 14:15). They were to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1-3). Paul was "explaining and proving" from the scriptures and the Bereans were "examining the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:1-3,11, NIV, NASB). They had rules of evidence governed by Hebrews 11:1 and were to "be putting yourselves to the test for the purpose of...finding that you meet the specifications" (2 Corinthians 13:5, Wuest). Their problem-solving methods produced "mature men with minds trained by practice to distinguish between good and bad" (Hebrews 5:14, JB).
Could we use these same methods today, in this age of science, to produce explanations for puzzling phenomena encountered in physics and astro¨nomy? Could we produce a physics that is concordant with the values in the Bible?
The Bible seems to answer this question in a comprehensive way: "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). The scriptures were given "so that the man who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17, TEV). The Bible intimately connects the "fear of the Lord" with "the beginning of wisdom" and understanding (Proverbs 1:7, 29-33, 9:10, Psalm 111:10); hence, "those who seek the Lord understand all things" (Proverbs 28:5). Jesus said his Father would send the Holy Spirit and "He will teach you all things" (John 14:26). "The anointing you received from [God] abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but...His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie" (1 John2:27). We are enabled to "walk as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:8-9).
It seems clear that such a "scriptural physics" can be constructed and that it can offer us new insights and plausible alternatives to the difficult factual, theoretical, and scriptural problems embodied in the physics of this century. Christians need these insights because "our battle is to break down every deceptive argument and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Phillips). We are the light of the world and it is appropriate that we should share our light on this topic too (Matthew 5:14-16).
1A good technical overview of the EPR paradox is given in the article "The Quantum Theory and Reality" by Bernard d'Espagnat in Scientific American, November 1979, pp. 158ff.