This morning (Dec 3, 2008) Calvin – knowing I’d be interested – rang to ask if I’d seen the Horizon programme ‘What Time Is It?’ (8pm BBC2 Dec 2, 2008). For some reason I’d missed this in the Radio Times, but I promptly brought it up on BBC’s wonderful iPlayer and watched it this lunchtime.
The programme was interesting, although I didn’t learn much that was new to me. As is par-for-the-course with this kind of programme, there was a great deal of ‘could it be that…,’ and ‘we don’t know the answer to this yet…,’ etc. And, as always, there were several things which seemed dodgy from a philosophical standpoint and paradoxical from the programmes own starting point.
For a start, it seemed remarkable that God wasn’t mentioned once throughout the programme. When discussing things which openly stray into the areas of speculation and philosophy (as this programme did), one would assume that the notion of a Creator could at least be considered a possibility. But the very idea of this possibility never got a mention. This tells us something about the worldview of the programme makers. It tells us that they are not open-minded to all possibilities (as good science should always be) and that they have a preconceived philosophical agenda which, from the very outset, rules out the most obvious answer to the questions they themselves are posing. ‘What existed before the Big Bang?’ the presenter asked. He admitted that neither he nor anyone else had the answer and speculated that, perhaps, it was ‘time.’
After being informed that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, we were then introduced to the way in which space-time can be warped by strong gravitational fields. The experiment which proved Einstein’s theory at this point was conducted by Shapiro in the 1960s, and involved reflecting light off Mercury. This proved that time is not a constant and can vary. In fact, time is different for all of us. At a mundane level, it even runs slightly slower for an individual who lies on the ground, because there, one is closer to the mass of the earth, where time appears slower. I began to get cross! “So what about the 13.7 billion years” I began complaining at the screen; “tell us where all this leaves the 13.7 billion years”. If time can warp so readily in our own solar system, even for each individual, how can we trust calculations of time which reach to the very beginnings of the universe? How do we even know that the speed of light is constant? And if it’s not, either in all conditions (including gravitational fields), or throughout the duration of those 13.7 billion years, what happens to our calculations?
Towards the end of the programme came a part of Einstein’s thinking which has long fascinated me, and which many students will have come across in previous blog entries and lectures of mine. This is the idea of past, present and future all existing at the same time, sometimes called ‘block time’. I find this idea fascinating on various levels. What if all things exist eternally and at the same time? Well, if we could for one second get our head around this, we might, in a small way, get an idea of the universe as God sees it! But we should not simply believe that God is ‘outside’ (transcendent), he is ‘inside’ (immanent) this dimension too! ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Such things are ‘too wonderful for me’ (Psalm 139:6) and I stand in awe of our magnificent God, the Lord of space and time; the Lord who counts the hairs on our heads! The very same Lord and Creator of those responsible for TV science programmes who not only do not believe in him, but who can’t even bring themselves to mention him as a possibility in their oh-so-clever theories.