What Is Time?

According to some recent scientific speculation, all time exists at once, from the beginning of the universe in a big bang to the final whimper as it snuffs out into blackness. Using esoteric quantum theory mathematics, these theorists reason that just as all space is one entity, so all time must be. That means our sense of past and future, of moving through time, is only an illusion. Our feeling that we are living "now" is meaningless; our past self is still feeling its now and our future self thinks its present is just as real as this one. All that will ever happen is set in stone and cannot be changed. That makes free will an illusion also; we are only going through predetermined motions, no matter how much we agonize over a decision or how boldly we assert our will.*

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An alternate theory proposes that, instead of one fixed time-line, every possible change occurs— and they mean that utterly without limit. That is, for the entire universe, for each quanta of time that it steps forward, literally everything possible happens, splitting the universe into every choice. A "big bang" for every attosecond. That means every atomic particle everywhere, if it can either go left or right, goes left in one universe and right in another newly created universe. That extends up to our scale too, so we are just along for the ride. Every person assumes he is really deciding to do or not do something, not realising that in all those alternate universes, he is doing the opposite. You do indeed have an evil twin. Actually billions of them. Some go good. Then bad. Then good... You cannot conceive the amount of energy this would require, but that doesn't seem to faze these theorists. They like to play with ideas.

Another consequence of this theory is that it eliminates the foundation of Christianity: Christ came to live as a real human to prove that a man could be faithful under pressure, as God believed (more on that in chapter 5). There was only one way he could be faithful, but many ways he could have gone bad. Failure had to have been possible, or Satan would have pointed out that this was a rigged contest. So, in almost all of these alternate universes, Jesus went bad by taking Satan's side, proving God wrong and dooming mankind. Do you see how insidious this theory is?

But what, really, is time? Fundamentally, it is the same thing as change. If there were no time, there could never be any Before or After. The flow of energy, the movement of matter, any action at all whatsoever, would be impossible without time. Energy itself requires time to mean anything; latent energy does nothing until it causes change. By definition, God himself could not will anything without time. He couldn't even think, "I will do something." That inherently requires a condition Before the thought and a condition After the thought, which means the passing of time. Therefore, we have to say that time is a fundamental property of God himself. God did not create time, it is inherently part of him. If he created time, then he created himself at the same instant, because he cannot have existed Before time: “Before” itself could not exist without time. So if time began with a big bang, God did too. Really, that cannot be true.

Most people think the "big bang" theory says the universe began "in" some place, but it actually says that space itself began with this bang. It was not just the material within the universe that began in a bang, it was the space itself; there was no "outside" within which it expanded, at least nothing like space as we know it. We could grant that there may be more to space than we can see, but to think that space didn't even exist before a certain time (which is itself an illusion...) makes me think somebody's been smoking something. "Great learning is driving them mad," to paraphrase a judge of long ago. (Acts 26:24.)

Although we cannot really understand what God is nor how he creates anything, we can say that before creation began, all that existed was God himself.* Therefore everything he created must be composed of energy that was part of Him. The Bible seems to say that he created persons (and who knows what else) within his own "spirit" realm first; these creatures are invisible and apparently not bound by quite the same rules as matter. As described, they seem to be free of gravity or speed limits. Yet they are able to see and affect the material world, so they can both detect and use the forces that act on matter; evidently there is some intersection between the two realms. As for matter, atoms— even the smallest subatomic particles— are really energy, tightly knit (some a bit looser than others, it seems). "Spirit" is likely to be just a different way of organizing energy. God himself is said to be "spirit" and also "abundant in dynamic energy". That is all we know about that.

Musing about that time before creation, one naturally asks, what could God have thought about for all that eternity alone? There was nothing to look at and nobody to interact with. What marked the passage of time? Was he imagining what he might someday create? There doesn't seem to be any reason for Him to think about himself, as if he could over time learn anything new about himself, or change anything about himself to be different from before.

In a sense, then, all creation is part of God. That does not need to mean that He controls every infinitesimal change everywhere by conscious will, as some religions teach. Taken to the limits of absurdity, if absurdity has any limits, that would mean that each and every photon escaping from every star in every galaxy is released by His making a deliberate decision for each one. That viewpoint does not comport with scripture, not to mention common sense. On the other hand, we can assume that he could halt or aim any individual photon anywhere, were he to wish to. Otherwise, they fly on their own, following the basic laws he set in place. In other words, the advancing of time, all changing, is not the result of God's deliberation at each instant; if it were, he should be happy with everything just the way it is. It would be his doing, after all.

Scientists have discovered that time appears to be affected by motion through space. They believe that there is a cosmic speed limit*, and anything that moves at that speed seems to be frozen in time to us. That is, besides the fact that it also seems to be whizzing by in a flash. The often cited example is that of hypothetical travellers to a distant star and back at a high speed; when they return, we are all old, but they are still young. Hence, had we been able to watch them on their way, they would seem to be aging at a glacial pace, i.e., almost frozen in time. Had they travelled fully at light speed, their local time (inside the space ship) would be stopped altogether, from our perspective. But they wouldn't know that; to the nearest star they would see it taking about 4 years. By the time they got back (still travelling at 100% light speed) the universe would have gone black from old age, according to the theory. Apparently they would discover this when they stopped (they wouldn't be able to see anything outside while they were moving so fast, although frankly we couldn't really observe them along the way either). Actually, if absolute light speed were an infinite limit (?!), one would not need to travel even half an inch at that speed to outlast the universe. Of course, photons travel measurable distances in finite time every day, and we are still here. But, they say, the photon has zero mass, which makes all the difference. Do they believe that photons of light are the same age at the end of their journey from a distant star as at the beginning of their trip, that for them, no time has passed, while for us, billions of years have come and gone?

The speed that photons travel in a vacuum, which is a function of the laws of electromagnetism. Usually simplified as "the speed of light", although photons extend from longwave to cosmic ray particles.

Backing off to merely near light speed, the quick travellers return young compared to the stay-at-homes, yet had they been watching the home-bodies while on their way, they would also have seen them aging more slowly than themselves, since all motion is relative (for all they knew, they were standing still while the stars were rushing along outside.) That would mean they would get quite a surprise when they opened the hatch to say hi on their return. Those slow-aging homebodies would be on canes and walkers. Something about these explanations of relativity are missing something. What, would they see them age slowly on the way out, then more than make up for it on the way back? Does direction reverse the effect on time? Wouldn't that effect be reciprocal, cancelling each other out? Is it really time itself being affected, or just what we can see while in motion?

Time dilation, that is, what we see or measure as the passage of time being affected by relative motion through space, is proven. But the fact that every means of measuring we have (which necessarily means using physical objects) observes this dilation does not prove that there cannot exist a fixed frame of reference underlying it all. It just may be out of our reach to measure, or simply not be helpful to use as a reference for practical purposes. We could arbitrarily declare a fixed point or framework and calculate everything relative to it, but that may not add to our ability to accomplish anything. And if we chose carelessly, it could mislead us, as the old geocentric view of the solar system before Galileo shows. Nonetheless, it may be a mistake (and a bit hubristic) to declare that no such reference exists anywhere.

Many have translated this no-fixed-reference-exists theory of relativity to the realm of morality. "There is no absolute good," they think. "I am free to do anything I want, that is, if I can get away with it." Which, in fact, is the rub. Things do tend to catch up to us, sometimes quite unpleasantly. We lose our moorings at our peril. So too the scientific theory: it is likely to be incomplete, to be unaware of something important.

To sum up regarding Time as an entity: energy means movement, movement means change of position in space, change means time has passed. There may be more to energy, space and time than we are able to measure, but none are optional; take any one away and you have nothing. There is no sense in which time can ever not exist. This is more fundamental than the belief that the speed of light is the limit on motion through space, which is the foundation tenet of Relativity Theory. Such a speed limit would have to derive from the nature of space, energy and time themselves. In fact, one could say that an invariant speed means there is an underlying invariant time-frame, even though we can only look at it through the distortions imposed by our material existence, like persons looking through moving water to see the bottom of a pool. But never has time been seen to move backward, nor anything to jump time, that is, go back to a time before now, or skip forward to a time beyond everything else. Such makes for entertaining fiction, no more.

One popular TV program attempting to explain how time is an illusion set up this example: To "prove" that there is no such thing as one "now" everywhere, they said that things that are vast distances apart share a common "now" only when they are not moving relative to one another. If they move toward each other, even at modest speeds, then were they able to instantly see each other's location, they would be seeing that location in its distant future; if they reverse and move apart, they would see each other's distant past. Why do they say this? Their math tells them so. How many holes does this logic have? One for sure: it can never be observed, because seeing instantly across vast distances violates that sacred speed, the speed of light. The only actual effect we can ever note about the relative motion of distant objects is the doppler effect on the light we use to do the observing with. We cannot see the ages of the stars in our telescopes swinging wildly into the past and the future as our planet orbits the sun, first toward, then away, from them. That is just not the way it works. So any swing in simultaneity is moot; it can never be observed. It is effectively meaningless.

Some have proposed the concept of multi-time, that is, God has his own time and invented an independent flow of time for the physical universe. Sort of cosmic multitasking. Nothing whatsoever supports the idea, and it fails the same test of reason and scripture as before: if that puts God outside our time-flow, how would he see our time-line? Surely it would be as a complete entity from start to finish, just as we can look at a calender, or a film reel, where every frame, every instant, is printed and in the can. But then we have to say, who shot this film? Who created this existence? By definition, it would have to be God. Then surely he is pleased with this production he directed. But scripture is very clear: he is dismayed at our behavior, and he makes decisions based on what He sees us doing. Totally at odds with a God who planned every bit of it in advance! Those who believe this have to see the God of scripture as a helpless creation himself, just a character in the movie. A short hop from that is to declare the Bible and its God a creation of man's fervid imagination, an immaturity that we now as enlightened 21st century intellectuals can discard as foolishness. Ah, Satan is so pleased with his cleverness: destroy faith in God with infinite exaltation.

Created on July 31, 2012; revised August 7th.