On God and Time

I

Today’s scientists are like religious gurus of earlier times. Whatever they say are accepted as divine truths by lay public as well as the philosophers. When mystics have said that time is unreal, nobody has paid any heed to them. Rather there were some violent reactions against it. Here are some examples:

G.E. Moore pointed out that if time is unreal then there are no temporal facts: nothing is past, present or future, and nothing is earlier or later than anything else. But, plainly, it is false that there are no temporal facts, for it is a fact that I am presently inscribing this sentence and that my breakfast yesterday preceded my lunch.1

  • Richard M. Gale

First of all, what can be meant by saying that time is unreal? If we really meant what we say, we must mean that such statements as “this is before that” are mere empty noise, like “twas brillig.” If we suppose anything less than these – as for example, that there is a relation between events which puts them in the same order as the relation of earlier and later, but that it is a different relation – we shall not have made any assertion that makes any real change in our outlook. It will be merely like supposing that Iliad was not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name. We have to suppose that there are no “events” at all; there must be only the one vast whole of the universe, embracing whatever is real in the misleading appearance of a temporal procession. There must be nothing in reality corresponding to the apparent distinction between earlier and later events. To say that we are born, and then grow, and then die, must be just as false as to say that we die, then grow small, and finally are born. The truth of what seems an individual life is merely the illusory isolation of one element in the timeless and indivisible being of the universe. There is no distinction between improvement and deterioration, no difference between sorrows that end in happiness and happiness that ends in sorrow. If you find a corpse with a dagger in it, it makes no difference whether the man died of the wound or the dagger was plunged in after death. Such a view, if true, puts an end, not only to science, but to prudence, hope, and effort; it is incompatible with worldly wisdom, and – what is more important to religion – with morality.2

  • Bertrand Russell

But when scientists have shown that at the speed of light time becomes unreal, these same philosophers have simply kept mum.  Here also they could have raised their voice of protest. They could have said something like this: “We will never admit that time is unreal. Then why are you wasting your valuable time, money, and energy by explaining to us as to how this time can become unreal? Are you mad?” Had they reacted like this, then that would have been consistent with their earlier emotional outbursts. But they had not. This clearly indicates that a blind faith in science is working here. If mystics were mistaken in saying that time is unreal, then why is the same mistake being repeated by the scientists? Why are they now saying that there is no real division of time as past, present and future in the actual world? If there is no such division of time, then is time real, or, unreal? Thus spake Einstein when his lifelong friend Michele Besso died:

Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.3

And thus spake scientist Paul Davies:

The most profound puzzle of all is the fact that whatever we may experience mentally, time does not pass, nor there exist a past, present and future. These statements are so stunning that most scientists lead a sort of dual life, accepting them in the laboratory, but rejecting them without thought in the daily life.4

Is this very recent statement made by a scientist that “time does not pass” anything different from the much earlier statement made by the mystics that “time is unreal”?

II

God is said to be spaceless and timeless. If someone now says that God does not exist, then the sentence “God is said to be spaceless and timeless” (S) can have three different meanings. S may mean:

  1. a) Nothing was/is spaceless and timeless in this universe (A),
  2. b) Not God, but someone else has been said to be spaceless and timeless here (B),
  3. c) Not God, but something else has been said to be spaceless and timeless here (C).

It can be shown that if it is true that God does not exist, and if S is also true, then S can only mean C, but neither A nor B. If S means A, then the two words “spaceless” and “timeless” become as meaningless as the word “brillig” (cited by Russell in the quotation mentioned above). By the word “brillig” we cannot indicate a person, a thing, an action, a property, a relation, or any other thing. Similarly, if S means A, then by the two words “spaceless” and “timeless” we cannot indicate anyone or anything, simply because in this universe never there was, is, and will be, anyone or anything that could be properly called spaceless and timeless. Now the very big question is: how can some scientists find meaning and significance in a word like “timeless” that has got no meaning and significance in the real world? If nothing was timeless in the past, then time was not unreal in the past. If nothing is timeless at present, then time is not unreal at present. If nothing will be timeless in the future, then time will not be unreal in the future. If in this universe time was never unreal, if it is not now, and if it will never be, then why was it necessary for them to show as to how time could be unreal? If nothing was/is/will be timeless, then it can in no way be the business, concern, or headache of the scientists to show how anything can be timeless. If no one in this universe is immortal, then it can in no way be the business, concern, or headache of the scientists to show how anyone can be immortal. Simply, it is none of their business. So, what compelling reason was there behind their action here? If we cannot find any such compelling reason here, then we will be forced to conclude that scientists are involved in some useless activities here that have got no correspondence whatsoever with the actual world, and thus we lose complete faith in science. Therefore we cannot accept A as the proper meaning of S, as this will reduce some activities of the scientists to simply useless activities.

Now can we accept B as the proper meaning of S? No, we cannot. Because there is no real difference in meaning between this sentence and S. It is like saying that the Iliad was not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name (Russell). So, if S is true, then it can only mean that not God, but something else has been said to be spaceless and timeless. Now, what is this “something else” (SE)? Is it still in the universe? Or, was it in the past? Here there are two possibilities:

  1. a) In the past there was something in this universe that was spaceless and timeless,
  2. b) That spaceless and timeless thing (STT) is still there.

We know that the second possibility will not be acceptable to atheists and scientists. So we will proceed with the first one. If STT was in the past, then was it in the very recent past? Or, was it in the universe billions and billions of years ago? Was only a tiny portion of the universe in spaceless and timeless condition? Or, was the whole universe in that condition? Modern science tells us that before the big bang that took place 13.8 billion years ago there was neither space, nor time. Space and time came into being along with the big bang only. So we can say that before the big bang this universe was in a spaceless and timeless state. So it may be that this is the STT. Is this STT then that SE of which mystics spoke when they said that God is spaceless and timeless? But this STT cannot be SE for several reasons. This is because it was there 13.8 billion years ago. And man appeared on earth only 2 to 3 million years ago. And mystical literatures are at the most 2500 years old, if not even less than that. So, if we now say that STT is SE, then we will have to admit that mystics have somehow come to know that almost 13.8 billion years ago this universe was in a spaceless and timeless condition, which is unbelievable. Therefore we cannot accept the proposition that STT is SE. The only other alternative is that this SE was not in the external world at all. As scientist Victor J. Stenger has said, so we can also say that this SE was in the mystics’ head only. But if SE was in the mystics’ head only, then why was it not kept buried there? Why was it necessary for the scientists to drag it in the outside world, and then to show as to how a state of timelessness could be reached? If the mystics’ sense of timelessness was in no way connected with the external world, then how will one justify scientists’ action here? Did these scientists think that the inside portion of the mystics’ head is the real world? And so, when these mystics got their sense of timelessness from their head only and not from any other external source, then that should only be construed as a state of timelessness in the real world? And therefore, as scientists they were obliged to show as to how that state could be reached?

We can conclude this article with the following observations: if mystical experience is a hallucination, then SE cannot be in the external world. Because in that case the mystics’ sense of spacelessness and timelessness will have a correspondence with some external fact, and therefore it will no longer remain a hallucination. But if SE is in the mystics’ head only, then that will also create a severe problem. Because in that case we are admitting that the inside portion of the mystics’ head is the real world for the scientists. That is why when the mystics got their sense of timelessness from their brain, that sense was treated by these scientists as a state of timelessness in the real world, and accordingly they proceeded to explain as to how that state could be reached. And we end up this article with this absurd statement: if mystical experience is a hallucination, then the inside portion of the mystics’ head is the real world for the scientists.

Reference:

  1. Book: The Philosophy of Time, edited by Richard M. Gale, Publisher: Macmillan, 1962. Introduction to Section Two, The static versus the dynamic temporal, p.69.
  2. Book: Religion and Science, Publisher: Oxford University Press, Chapter: Mysticism, 1961.
  3. Available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michele_Besso
  4. Book: Other Worlds, Publisher: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1980, Prologue, p.14.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s