September 15, 2022 | Source: Adventist Review
In the room in front of me, an application (Atomic Clock) measures the moment in 1/100 of a second, so fast that the digits jitter and become unreadable (try counting 99 digits per second). It is how quickly the moment takes us away, or perhaps how quickly the moment leaves us (just like what time does to us when we die). In principle, we can slow down the moment relative to the others, or even stop it (by traveling at a speed close to that of light or by entering a black hole); in reality, we are finite, temporal beings trapped in space and time, barely able to understand our own finitude and temporality, let alone the eternity and infinity in which they are situated.
For Isaac Newton, time and space contained, absolute and unchanging, the substance of the universe as a glass aquarium contains water and fish. For Albert Einstein, space and time merge into spacetime, which is itself an integral part of the fabric of the universe, and which bends and flexes in response to this matter, just as skin does to our body. The most dramatic manifestation of this curvature and bending is gravity.
Some argue that space is nothing more than the relationship between objects. Yet space — it undulates, bends, bends and even expands (so it’s nothing). Our universe and the galaxies it contains (we are told) are expanding; think of a loaf of bread with a raisin that rises. But if it is expanding, then the universe is not infinite (how could what is infinite grow?) But if it is not infinite, what is at the bottom? beyond the universe? And if I may humbly ask: where does it extend?
And the distances? If light (which travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second) travels more than 112 billion miles in a week, how can we imagine the edge of our observable universe, 93 billion light years wide, expanding (again, to what? )? We beings that occupy about 1.76 cubic feet do not have enough neurons, neurotransmitters and synaptic connections to conceive of such a large space. Our imagination shrinks before the idea. Our brains are simply too small.
And in the other direction? According to quantum theory, the smallest measurable spatial distance is a Planck length or 1.6 x 10-35 meters. “To give you an idea, think of the Large Hadron Collider tunnel. It’s a ring with a diameter of about 10 kilometers. The Planck length compares to the diameter of a proton like the radius of a proton to the diameter of the Large Hadron Collider We have too many neurons, neurotransmitters and synaptic connections for our minds to think that small. Our brains are just too big.
Furthermore, the vacuum of space is not empty, but swarms, bubbles and oscillates, producing matter and antimatter where particles appear and disappear. It contains the Higgs field, which is responsible for the mass of matter, and is imbued (they believe) with dark energy, which (they believe) causes the universe to expand at the rate that he makes it to (again, in what?) . And scattered hydrogen atoms populate every cubic meter.
And the time? Although we understand a lot about time in the context of Einstein’s theory of relativity, it is, writes Richard Mueller, “strange that we understand so little about the basis of time – what it is and how it relates to reality”.
What time is it? What does it do and how does it do it? (A clock, however accurate, does not explain time any more than a speedometer explains speed or a thermometer explains heat).
Why does time flow (or stop and we in space move through it?) in only one direction, from past to present and future? Time must be extraordinarily powerful because, whether in Tasmania or Paris, it instantly converts the immediate now into a non-existent past, and at the same time draws the non-existent future into the immediate now, before also transforming it into a non-existent past. All there is, it seems, is the present, the “enigmatic and fleeting moment which changes meaning every moment” and which in turn either takes us with us or leaves us behind.
Or maybe not? Scientists come up with “block universe” theories, which teach that all space and time exist simultaneously and that the flow of time—from past to present to future—is an illusion. “Imagine an ordinary piece of cement,” says Marina Cortês, a cosmologist at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. “It has three dimensions, but we live in four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions plus a temporal dimension. A universe block is a four-dimensional block, but instead of being [fait de ciment, il est fait de] space time. And all space and time in the universe is in this block”. Just as our presence in one part of space does not negate the existence of other parts, our presence in one moment of time does not deny the existence of other moments, i.e. the past and the present – even if we only know the present. This theory could explain how God, outside of space and time, sees the entire universe as a whole before him, not only knowing the past but also the future.
Just as the extremes of space—from the Planck length to infinity—confound our brains, so do the extremes of time. How to enter the smallest known measure of time, the Planck time, which is the time it takes light (186,000 miles per second) to travel a Planck length (one hundredth of a millionth of a trillionth of the diameter of a proton )? Still, that’s easy compared to the other extreme: infinity. Oscillating between the two we don’t understand either.
Although in God we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we also do so in space and time. Perhaps they are so hard to understand because they are so basic and fundamental to thinking in general (try conceptualizing something physical outside of space and time). Perhaps space and time are things which, according to Thomas Nagel, “cannot be explained because they must be part of any explanation”?
No wonder this text resonates with me. “For we are only yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow” (Job 8, 9). And this one: “For now we see dimly through a glass” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And also this: “The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
The room is so big, we are so small; time is so long, we are so fleeting (of “yesterday” for sure and possibly no “tomorrow”). Even with our nuclear breakers taking us in one direction and our satellite telescopes taking us in the other, we know next to nothing, and much of what we do know will turn out to be wrong anyway. , when God “brings the hidden things of darkness to light” (1 Cor 4:5).
If the beauty, vastness (in one way or another) and complexity of the physical world humbles me, how much more is the God who not only created it but also “sustains the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1 :3, ESV), and “in whose hand is the life of every living thing,/And the breath of every man” (Job 12:10)? What is still more astonishing is that the very One who holds all this, and in whose hand our breath is, has also “put away all reputation, taken the form of a slave, and became like men. And when in appearance he was found as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:7, 8).
If we can barely understand the creation, how much less He who created it and died for it, or rather died for a little bit of the creation that we are, a little bit? Because we inhabit such a small space, for such a short time, we may not know much about creation, but we know enough to love and honor its Creator.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ Adult Bible Study Guides, and was a longtime columnist for the Adventist Review.
- Muller, Richard A. Now: The Physics of Time (p. 13). WW Norton & Company. Kindle edition.
- Ibid. p. 5
- Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 76.