Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Couple of Comments on Gregory Boyd on Relativity Theory

In a recent post on his blog, Gregory Boyd says the following (in comments about the recent Quincy Science and Theology Conference):

We all know thawt Relativity Theory stipulates that the NOW of every finite perspective cannot be absolutely correlated with the NOW of any other finite perspective, since WHEN an event happens depends on WHERE you are, and HOW FAST you're traveling, relative to the event in question. Yet, each finite perspective has ITSELF as a NOW, and this NOW has a real "before" and a real "after." So the universe is comprised of all finite perspectives with their own NOW and their own "BEFORE" and "AFTER." (In relativity language, each perspective has its own "time cone").Now, if we believe in an omnipresent God, God would be internally present to, and thus contemporaneous with, each finite perspective, and thus each NOW. God could therefore have -- indeed, MUST have -- a "NOW" that synchronizes and integrates ALL finite perspectives. Thus, for God, there is an absolute NOW that encompasses all NOWS. So even with Relativity Theory, I argued, God and the universe are moving forward from a real past to a real future...

But none of this actually works given Relativity as it stands (you could, of course, decide to reject Relativity as being literally true but that would be a different move, though more common). When Boyd talks about "perspectives" the only thing I can think of that he might mean is a space-time point or a space-time point considered in a particular frame of reference (given what he says about perspectives having an absolute earlier and later there really isn't much else he could mean in the context of Relativity Theory). But then, if God's NOW is just the
combination of all NOWs and each perspective is its own NOW then God's NOW would just be the whole space-time universe. How do you get a real past and future just from that or any movement from one to the other? This isn't to say that there is no past or future or anything that might be called "flow" (I think there is, though I think the tensed version of this is incorrect). It's just that Boyd's idea doesn't seem to get him anything like what he might want.

He also reports on this:

But the main topic for the day was what science has to say about the nature of time. Among the many things Robert said was that there are 7 indicators in science (as we presently understand it) that suggest that the flow of time from the past to the future is real. (This is very important since the flow of time has for the most part been considered superfluous for the physical sciences, since most equations work forward or backward. Prediction and retrodiction are essentially the same).I don't have time to explain these, but for those who are curious, these 7 arguments are:
1) Cosmological: Evidence of the big bang suggests the universe is moving from a start in the past to a finish in the future.
2) Radioactive: Light and sound diverge outward but don't converge inward.
3) Thermodynamics: Disorder increases over time. (This is the famous "Second Law of Thermodynamics").
4) Gravitational: Black holes absorb all matter in a one way motion. There are no "white holes" that reverse the process.
5) Subatomic: Anti-kaons (the anti-matter of kaons) disintegrate faster than kaons.
6) Measurement: The collapse of the quantum wave is irreversible.
7) Psychological: People uniformly remember the past and anticipate the future. (This one, of course, is not a strictly scientific piece of evidence, but perhaps Mann included it simply because its a phenomenon that needs explaining.)
...At one point Mann seemed to suggest that Special and General Relativity Theory entailed a "block view" of the universe (this is the view that the past, present, and future are timelessly present as a sort of settled block. The flow of time, in other words, is not real ).
Of course, all of those things do indicate that there is flow to time - they simply do not, however, indicate that there is flow in the sense that tensed theorists like Boyd want there to be. What these things indicate is that time has an arrow, but that doesn't have much to do with whether there is a block universe or not (if by "block universe" all we mean is the view that all times are equally real, existent, and determinate - this may not be exactly what Boyd has in mind, though I'm not sure what else he might mean since a block universe in this sense does not have all times being "timelessly present"). Again, nothing here to write home about from the perspective of a tensed theorist or open theist.

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