Thursday, December 8, 2022

Science, Space, and Time

What does science tell us about the nature of time and space? It is widely claimed that, in relativistic physics, space and time are intertwined in a four-dimensional space-time block universe, where all times co-exist eternally. This seems to challenge the common-sense presentist view of time, where only the present instant exists, moving from a no longer existing past to a yet-to-exist future. How well established is the block universe with its static time?

Absolute space and time

Classical physics is based on Isaac Newton's notions of absolute space and time, which exist independently of each other. Newton held that they did not exist by themselves but depended on God's omnipresence and eternality. There is a universal clock, a universal "now," so that each location in space follows the same absolute time. 

Absolute space and time accorded well with the notion of dynamic time or presentism, where only the present moment exists. Absolute space provided a preferred frame of reference, a God's view of reality, defining position and motion. This ensured an objective ordering of events (absolute simultaneity) independent of an observer's position or motion.

Empirically, Newton defined absolute space in terms of a reference frame in which Newton's laws of motion held (called an "inertial frame"). In such a frame the Earth's annual revolution about the Sun, as well as its daily rotation, were deemed to reflect absolute motion.  Given, however, that all we can ever observe is relative motion, this raised the question of whether the laws of motion could be reformulated to apply to other conceptions of absolute space, such as, for example, one upholding a stationary Earth.

Relativity, space, and time

Einstein's theory of special relativity, on the other hand, stressed relative motion between different observers. It assumed that no observer is privileged but that all have equal standing. Hence, there is no longer an absolute frame of reference. Further, two observers moving relative to one another could view the same set of events in different sequences, so that an event that is past for one observer may be future for another observer. Consequently, absolute simultaneity (where a set of events has the same absolute order for all observers) is replaced with relative simultaneity and a universal "now" is replaced with a different local time for every observer.

In the most popular interpretation of special relativity, space and time are intertwined into a four-dimensional space-time block universe where past, present, and future times all co-exist eternally.  This static view of time (eternalism) opposes the dynamic time of presentism, where only the present time exists. 

Our strong commonsense experience of the flow of time is then reduced to a mere delusion. As Einstein himself said, "To us believing physicists the distinction between past, present, and future has only the significance of a stubborn illusion."

Special relativity is somewhat simplistic since it ignores gravity. Einstein's theory of general relativity generalizes special relativity to include gravity. General relativity postulates that gravity is exhibited by warping 4-d space-time so that both space and time are distorted by massive objects. General relativity, too, is commonly viewed as refuting presentism. 

There are, however, several ways in which special and general relativity can be reconciled with presentism. 

1. Metaphysically preferred frames

Even in theories where there is relative simultaneity, one is still free to imagine there is a sort of "metaphysically preferred frame" whose definition of simultaneity is "true" while the others are "false" in a metaphysical sense. One must then accept that no possible physical experiment could allow us to empirically prove (or disprove) that preferred frame to be "true". Such a preferred frame could, however, be chosen on the basis of philosophical or theological considerations.

Thus, even if relativity treats all potential observers equally, we could still choose, for example, a stationary observer in Greenwich, UK, to have preferred status. We could then define the absolute reference frame to be centered on Greenwich and define Greenwich time as the absolute time. Clocks associated with other observers could then be synchronized with Greenwich time so that a universal "now" is associated with Greenwich time. 

2. Rewrite relativity in absolute terms

Another approach is to rewrite special and general relativity in terms of absolute time. For example, the "Neo-Lorentzian" version of special relativity retains absolute (3-dimensional) space plus an absolute time independent of space.  Similarly, absolute time can be retained in general relativity by using a Hamiltonian version of general relativity.[1] Such absolute versions of relativity are observationally indistinguishable from the space-time block universe view. As in the previous case, however, the absolute frame must generally be chosen on the basis of metaphysical, rather than empirical, considerations.

3. Instrumentalism

One could also contend that, since we can't prove any scientific theory to be true, we should just treat it as a useful fiction. Scientific theories, such as special and general relativity and quantum mechanics can be viewed simply as handy tools that enable us to establish relations among observations and to make predictions, but tell us nothing about reality beyond the observations, such as the nature of time.

Science and time in general

In quantum mechanics, a measurement performed on one of two entangled particles has an instantaneous effect on the other particle, even when they are far apart. The two events are simultaneous, no matter how fast any observer is moving. This supports an absolute simultaneity, with an objective flow of time.[2]

General relativity, which deals with the very large (e.g., stars and galaxies), and quantum mechanics, which deals with the very small (e.g., atoms), are two of the most successful theories in modern physics. Yet, they are very difficult to reconcile, suggesting that at least one of these theories is incomplete. Currently, there is as yet no widely accepted theory of quantum gravity. One theory of quantum gravity proposed by Petr Horava retains the notion of absolute time.[3] There seems no reason to doubt that any future theory of quantum gravity could be interpreted within a framework of absolute time.

Other scientific disciplines, such as biology and geology, seem more conducive to dynamic time than to static time.


Conclusions

1. We should note that a scientific theory such as general relativity or quantum mechanics, no matter how successful, is just a mathematical model representing a very limited aspect of reality. We must be careful not to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, where our abstract model becomes more real than our concrete experienced reality, upon which the model is based. Thus occurs, for example, when we allow relativity to dismiss the intuitive flow of time we all experience as a mere illusion. After all, science should ultimately serve to explain our observations, not to explain them away.

2. Empirically, physics can deal only with relative motion and position. This leaves one free to choose an absolute frame of reference based on metaphysical or theological considerations. Thus, for example, there can be no scientific objection to choosing, say, the earth as an absolute frame of reference and earth time as universal time, if one so wished.

3. Although some parts of physics, such as special and general relativity may seem more conducive to eternalism, other parts, such as quantum mechanics, accord better with presentism. Yet all of physics can be interpreted within either eternalism or presentism. Thus I conclude that physics by itself does not conclusively support any particular theory of time. In short, it offers no compelling grounds for ruling out presentism, or dynamic time, as a viable view of time.

4. More generally, we must be wary of extracting metaphysical conclusions from any physical theory. Often these merely reflect the metaphysical assumptions upon which the theory is based. 

5. Finally, scientific theories, even if they could be proven to be true for the entire observed physical universe, do not extend to the unseen heavenly realm, which seems to have its own laws. Hence, human science, when unaided by divine revelation, is incapable of discovering the true spatial and temporal nature of the universe as a whole.

*****

[1] J. Brian Pitts 2004, “Some Thoughts on Relativity and the Flow of Time: Einstein’s Equations given Absolute Simultaneity”. Preprint. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/2760/. Accessed Nov.16, 2022.

[2] see Jeffrey Koperski 2015, The Physics of Theism. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p.122.

[3] Koperski, op. cit., p.134.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

God, Creation, and Space

Some Christian apologists (e.g., William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross) contend that it is scientifically proven that the physical universe began from an infinitely dense point of space (the so-called Big Bang singularity), which marked the creation also of space and time. They contend that, if space and time did not exist before creation, then the universe must have been created by a cause transcending space and time, which they equate with God.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

God, Creation, and Time

Did time exist before the creation of the world? Many Christians believe that time was created along with the physical universe, and that there was no time "before" creation. Is this feasible?

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Does the Bible Use Phenomenal Language?

Does the Bible speak about reality or only about appearances? Sometimes, to avoid conflict with alleged scientific facts, it is claimed that the Bible uses phenomenal (or phenomenological) language, describing things as they appear from our human, earth-bound perspective rather than being factually correct in a more scientific sense.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Canadian Reformed MPs Approve Pro-LGBT Bill C-4

How many Canadian Members of Parliament, or Senators, are willing to stand up for Christian values against the pro-homosexual agenda? NONE. Not a one. Not even the Canadian Reformed MPs Arnold Viersen and Tako van Popta!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Two Free E-Books Available

I have just updated my book The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning. At the same time, I converted it into an e-book, available (free) in pdf format here. This is available also in epub format, but for some reason google.drive can't handle epub, so that you should send me an email if you want the epub file.

Friday, September 3, 2021

What is the Genuine Reformed View of Science?

Numerous writers claim to defend a “Reformed” view of science (for example, [1], [2], [3], [4]). Reformed theology is grounded in a high view of Scripture. Yet, allegedly Reformed scholars often embrace aspects of mainstream science (e.g., evolution, an ancient earth, etc.) that require a re-interpretation of the Biblical text (e.g. a non-literal reading of Gen. 1-11). This raises the question: What should characterize a genuinely Reformed view of science?  
 

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Absurdity of a Solid Dome

 According to many Bible scholars, people of the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed that the sky was a fixed solid dome - in which the Sun, moon, and stars were embedded - supported by pillars, or mountains, at the ends of a flat earth. The Israelites are said to have shared this erroneous ANE cosmology, which is allegedly the underlying idea behind the "firmament" or “expanse” (raqia) of Genesis 1.

Monday, May 31, 2021

God and Necessary Truths

Christianity maintains that only God is self-existent. He is the sovereign Creator, who freely creates everything else. God exists necessarily, in that it is impossible for God not to exist, God's non-existence is inconceivable. The created universe, in contrast, is merely contingent, in that it could have been different, and need not have existed at all. But what about abstract objects, such as the laws of logic and math, which seem to be necessary truths? How do they relate to God? 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Canadian Reformed MP stands with LGBT

 A few days ago on May 17, the so-called "International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia", Tako van Popta, a local Canadian Reformed Member of Parliament (MP), made a public Facebook post affirming that he was "standing with" Canadian LGBTQ2 (LesbianGayBisexualTransgenderQueer...) communities.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Review: In the Beginning

An important book, In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2 (2021, Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 371 pages) has just been published by Dr. Cornelis van Dam, emeritus professor of Old Testament at Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Why is There Something?

Why is there something? There could have been nothing - no physical objects or laws, no conscious beings, no thoughts, no universe at all. So, why is there something, rather than nothing? 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How big tech became big brother

 A relevant video by David Wood (found on the Triablogue site), raising concerns that big tech (Youtube, Google, Twitter, Amazon, etc.), like mainstream media, is increasingly censoring Christian views while promoting leftist ideology.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Useful Sites

Here are some sites that I find useful and check regularly. Please inform me of any dead links, or sites that should be added.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Finding Adam

The Dutch scholar Dr. Willem J. Ouweneel defends the traditional Biblical Adam, against attempts to combine Adam with human evolution, in his recent book Adam, Where Are You? And Why This Matters: A Theological Evaluation of the Evolutionist Hermeneutic (Jordan Station, Canada: Paideia Press, 2018, 480 pages).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Hijacking John Calvin – More Pro Rege Polemics

A few months ago, in my post Pro Rege Polemics, I discussed a dispute about science and the Bible in Pro Rege, a Dordt University publication. Since then two more contributions continue the debate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Seeing Through Smoke

Here is a new book very relevant to recent events: Seeing Through Smoke: Living the Truth in an Age of Deception (2020), by Dr Jon Garvey. This book (pdf) can be downloaded free.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Some thoughts on Dr Packer

James Innell Packer recently died on July 17, 2020, at age 93. He was one of the most influential theologians of the last century, perhaps best known for his two earliest books, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) and Knowing God (1973). He was also general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Friday, July 17, 2020

How Should Christians View Origins?

We have just revised our booklet How Should Christians View Origins? and converted it into an e-book. Available for free. A pdf version can be downloaded here.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

The Creation Without Compromise site has just published an extensive review by Dr. Wes Bredenhof of the theistic evolutionist book Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.  Hardcover, 659 pages).