Big Science Questions and the Gospel, Part VIII, Time and God

When I was a Wikipedia editor years ago the Joseph Smith page stated that “[Smith] began teaching that God was…embodied within time and space,” and they cited Busman’s statement to that effect. I removed the “embodied in time” and explained that this is arguable, citing Alma’s statement that “time only is measured unto men.” (As I was writing this I re-checked the page, and it’s back up, oh well).  

So is God in and beholden to the flow of time? Church historians and theologians undoubtedly have a more informed take on this than I, but in terms of the science I’m more comfortable with an Augustinian “no.” 

Since Einstein discovered that “now” is relative, saying that God dwells in time begs the question of which time, since it doesn’t do us any good to simply say that “now” for God is “now” for us, and that God remembers the past and is aware of, but is not experiencing, the future. (Although the Pearl of Great Price speaks of Kolob as reckoning “God’s time,” I read this as talking about God’s unit of time measurement more than the “now” that God is operating in, although I might be wrong). Joseph Smith’s quote that “the past, present, and future, were, and are with [God] one eternal now” basically strikes the same note as Einstein’s statement that “the distinction made between past, present, and future is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion.” 

The physicist Brian Green compares the flow of time through space to a loaf of bread. Earlier in time is earlier in the loaf, and later is near the end of the loaf, but all of time essentially exists “at once,” (or “one eternal now”). This imputes a kind of “immediate relevance” to things that we now think of happening in the past. In a sense the Second Coming, Golgotha, and the First Vision, are all happening Now. Things that happened in the past are not bygone, has-been events, but are still very relevant and, in a way, current. This view of seeing the world does help me live in the moment more than I am disposed to, since “the moment” will always exist. 

One perspective about what came “before” the Big Bang is that it is like talking about what is south of the South Pole: time itself began then so it’s a nonsense statement. (Interestingly, the Big Bang was first conjectured by a Roman Catholic priest, who received pushback from some quarters because they believed that a hypothesis that space and time began at some point in the past was a little too theologically convenient). However, as noted in a previous post, the idea that God would also have begun at the Big Bang doesn’t quite sit right with me, so the LDS theological belief that there is an eternal past as well as future (which I can’t chapter and verse but that seems to be the deal), would require some kind of a multiverse, which again comports with my native Latter-day Saint dispositional belief in creations multiplying other creations far beyond our horizons of comprehension. 

13 comments for “Big Science Questions and the Gospel, Part VIII, Time and God

  1. God operates within the present time. It’s cause and effect. It would be meaningless if God existed outside or unembodied to cause and effect. In the creation God did sequential events that brought about our existence. Those events didn’t happen all at once.

    There are works God has done in the past, current works he is presently working on and future works he has yet to do. The phrase “bring to pass” is how God works to meaning he brings (future) into the present and then it passes and becomes the past. The very word “works” for God entails processes and steps which is in fact the very definition of cause and effect.

  2. I suspect God would have to follow rules of cause and effect within time. His works are “current” in that they are operating in the slice of bread that we currently are in, and they will “come to pass” relative to our vantage point if they are in the slices of bread ahead of us.

  3. The matter of time is beyond all of us, tho Einstein did a good start. Such matters of time likely also explain the patriarch’s ages. Time was different. Notice that the ages of those patriarchs when the next son was born average over 100. Methuselah was 187 when he begat Lamech, and Lamech was 182 when he begat Noah (Moses 8:5,8); from Adam to Noah the ages for begetting the next named son are 130, 105, 90, 70, 65, 162, 65, 187, 182 years (Moses 6); the average of those is 117. Now it may not be that the next named son was always the oldest (not for Adam to Seth), but it may be that most were. Think, if the age of sexual maturity were then as it is now, that is, 12-ish, they would not wait until 100 or so to get married. And 100 is about 1/9th of 900 plus. Take a long healthy life of 120 presently (as some proverbial Japanese lifespans of those healthy veggie and fish eaters), and 1/9th of 120 would be about 15. Those patriarchs may have been marrying comparable to our teenagers: Methuselah 24 (20% of 120 like 187/969) and Seth 14-15 (of 120 like 105/912). That alternate timeframe would explain why a 65-year-old Enoch could say “I am but a lad” (Moses 6:31); today 65-year-olds ain’t no lads. We know that greater mass increases gravity, and that increased gravity slows time (Einstein’s relativity, etc). Something about Enoch’s departure and the flood (not far apart) changed time. Noah was the last to live 900 plus, his boys only lived 600 and were the last generation to live part of their life before the flood, and thereafter lifespans went from 400, 200, to 120 or so quite quickly, and have remained in that ball park the rest of the history of earth since (minus variations less, when not enough food, too much food, or wrong kind of food, or disease or overwork or sedentary lifestyles and other cultural patterns shortening life). The Lord told Adam he’d die in the day he partook of the fruit. Given that a thousand years is a day unto the Lord (said in the scriptures somewhere), that was exactly right. The patriarchs lived just short of 1000 years—just short of a full day—until after the flood, then time changed quickly, such that 120 years now may seem like or have the same experiential capacity as 900 years in the early days. In other words, they lived / experienced what would seem to us about 120 years. Relativity says that two things slow time: greater speed and greater gravity. Consider the changes to the earth that would/could have contributed to the lifespan change: one, when the earth was larger (before Enoch and Zion took a chunk), the greater mass and greater gravity would have slowed time. That greater gravity would make people much heavier unless a proportionately faster spin and its centrifugal force would have us weighing about same as now. The faster spin would also cause time to slow. Also, we do not know but what the earth may have been circling the earth a little faster and that greater speed earlier would also slow time. I think physics and such details as we do not fully understand now, were involved and that the numbers of their lifespans are what the Lord said they were in the scriptures, but experientially were perhaps not as different as we think.

  4. brian stubbs,

    My sense is that before the flood there were more vestiges of the Garden in the order of creation than we enjoy today. It seems like the flood might’ve have been a readjustment of creation–such that there may have been a change in the reckoning of time and perhaps even space. I don’t know enough to say anything meaningful about a change in mass and motion and all of that. But, as per the scriptures, the various reckonings seem to correspond to varying degrees of glory. And so it could be that God in his mercy had allowed a wisp of paradisiacal glory to remain in the fallen world for our benefit–but because of our inclination to use it for evil rather than good he removed it when he reordered creation during the flood.

  5. Cal. prof.-emeritus Muller, in a nutshell, thinks that because space & time is four dimensional, not solely three dimensions of space acceleratedly expand, but, time, with it. (Muller’s no slouch: very creative at coming up with concepts & also ideas for experiments. Two examples of the latter include):

    (1) Taking his 1978 Waterman Award to fund [what eventually turned into] designing a satellite to map the cosmic background radiation (photons-redshifted-to-microwave frequency as emanate from the distant/ancient universe). The map this generated turned out ia bit glompyish, hence, the initial observational support to the Hubble expansion/big bang — albeit, by then, Muller had turned the project over to his colleague Smoot (who got the Nobel, although Muiller got a MacArthur grant).

    (2) Decided to search for supernovae in far-off galaxies, to measure the universe’s presumed deceleration. (This one Muller turned over to his student Perlmutter. Muller: “I hired him to work on my project to measure the acceleration of the universe, using supernovas. Of course, we all expected it to be a deceleration. The project was long and hard. We started with nearby supernovas, and discovered a large number. Saul and Carl Pennypacker took the initiative to begin the search on distant supernovas. As time went on, I felt that Saul had become the de facto leader of the project; I was working on it and many other things, and the critical ideas for improving the supernova project were mostly coming from Saul. So, after 12 years, I asked him to take over leadership.”) For his genesis of the project, Muller shared in the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (Nobel shares limitied to three, they went that year to Perlmurtter/Schmidt/Riess).

    Any hoo — As you “create” more space, you “create” more time. “Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as _now_. The future does not yet exist … it is being created. Now is at the boundary, the shock front, the new time that is coming from nothing, the leading edge of time.”

    Travelling into the future, prior its actual arrival? I don’t think so, unless one theoretically expands space, at least locally. Ditto: Reversing time, requiring its theoretical shrinking (although this latter Muller says happen _infinitesimally_, when stars explode or black holes evaporate, their effects hidden in the quantum uncertainty of measurement).

    Per Muller & Caltech’s Maguire (2016) new space made when a binary black hole combines would delay the gravitational wave that CalTech’s LIGO would observe. (With apologies, I’ll google & see if Muller & Maguire’s prediction was falsified [ . . . or verified?])

  6. Well, I don’t know if this has anything to do with you are talking about, but I refer you to Moses 1:33. He talks about, “Worlds without number have I created;” That always struck me as strange. Granted that Moses or Joseph Smith may not have known anything about Einstein’s theory of relativity or concepts of the infinite, yet the statement implies an infinity of created worlds that once created, ended. So my question ran, could you just create one more world and add it to that infinity? How many would that be? Then verse 35 says that, “there are many worlds that have passed away. . .” If you subtract them from the infinite, what do you have? Maybe replacement worlds are put in their place to maintain infinity as verse 35 may go on to imply. I always wondered if you cut infinity in half, what number would you have? Perhaps it would be better to say, “Worlds without number am I creating.”

  7. Infinity isn’t a number. It has no numerical value. God hasn’t created an infinity of anything, and never will.

    The most important thing to remember is that the sands on the beach are referred to as “numberless”. Now, we can’t realistically count all the individual grains around the world on every seashore bit we do know there isn’t a never ending sum of them. This is the context God uses in how numberless his creations are. Not that there are an actual never endingcamount of them but rather so many that they are as numberless as the sands on the seashore for us. But to God they are numbered. You can only number finite things.

    The absurdity of saying “half of infinity” is nonsensical. Half of what? A numbering system that counts a finite amount, makes a mark and self repeats this process indefinitly? What exactly is “half of a never ending process? A semi never ending process? Nonsensical.

  8. The thing that made Einstein so genius is that the passing of time is relative to ones motion and perspective. Motion doesn’t happen instantaneously. A must happen before B because B can’t exist without A first happening that has casual effect on B. Time itself isn’t a dimension or entity or space, etc. Time is interesting in that everything we do is planned to unfold in the future but only realized in the past.

    I like the concept of the leading edge of time, or the present. If I am taking a walk, all of my actions are dependent on how we line up the future. A football pass is a perfect example of how the mind conceptualized and works within time. The quarterback throws ahead of the runner in anticipation that in the future, albeit it very short, it will be caught. But, he can only realize that catch after that leading edge of time has already come and gone, so in this sense he records what he sees as the present only that it’s actually the past at that very instance.

    I used to play around with funny things like this in my mind such as if a theoretical man was shooting another man from a great distance with a gun and he was to shoot a bullet at half the speed of light. The guy getting shot at has a very slow camera that can catch every frame down to the finest millisecond of the bullet coming at him and he has a stopwatch timing how long it takes for the bullet to get to him. Now, the shooter also has a slow camera and he is doing the same thing in watching his target and timing how long it takes for the bullet to hit the man. Interesting paradox here is that each person will record the bullet traveling at different speeds! The guy getting shot at can only start his stopwatch after the bullet is already halfway to the target because it takes that much time for him to see the light waves from the bullet exit the muzzle to reach him. But because the bullet is already halfway there it will thus appear to travel much faster than it actually is, the distance seem shorter.

    I’ve often thought of this phenomenon in contemplating the universe. Perhaps the universe expanding is just an illusion, a trick on our perceptions as we gaze through space and time is moving slower relative for us than space itself creating the illusion of expansion.

  9. In light of verse 35,37. It says they are innumerable unto man but unto God they are numbered because he “knows” them. This doesn’t mean an “infinitie” amount but rather such a large number that man couldn’t count them all. And this in part because we are incapable of counting somerhing we cannot see because it’s too far away.

    Ancient prophets and scribes used the phrase “without number to mean so many they either didn’t count or so many it was pointless to count. For example, in Genesis 41:49. it reads -“And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.” It doesn’t mean Joseph gathered an infinite amount of corn, just so much that it was beyond man’s feeble means or care to count such.

    God only ever has a finite amount of creations at any given moment.

  10. Prominent steady-state universe model proponent Hoyle gave the term _big bang_ to Lemaître’s (after Friedmann [after Einstein]) “primeval atom” theory universe. However, Lemaître’s model has produced all sorts of predictions that have proved true. Hence it’s proven its utility as a model (which, as we know, features all of the universe’s matter and its trajectory of time’s Beginning within a single point). Which illustrates quite well that the singularities of zero & infinity often possess great utilities of convenience.

    For yet another example, take the aether. In the fourth century BC, it was thought to have a very-fine substance to it, for example, the proto-scientist Aristotle considered it the “5th element” after those of earth, air, fire, & water.

    Updating Aristotle’s verbiage to at least the late-20th century might result in our saying that any type of aether would include such things as particle-acting wave(s) in a field (or, alternately, “wave-acting particles” in a field). (To complete the five states: earth would be any solid matter; air, any gaseous matter; fire, any ionized gaseous matter (&/or ionized liquid-like plasma); & water, any liquid matter.)

    Rewinding just a touch back to the very-early 20th century: Confronted with conceptions concerning the universe’s Hubble (or, if you prefer, [Friedmann-] Lemaître_) expansion, however, & it becomes rather CONVENIENT to think of what was formerly thought of as being aether to instead be some kind of mystically self-extending Void that’s for all intents & purposes infinitely vacuumous & possessing of absolute zero intrinsic-to-it matter.

    After Perlmutter success at Muller’s supernovae project (piggy backed on by Schmidt & Riess), it’s now becomse convenient, instead, to assign to the ah “Void” NEARLY-zero mass, lol (via dark-energy creating more & more space due to its anti-gravitational forces . . . with each dark-energy particle, per Brown’s Koushiappas, having a mass approximately 42 times that of a proton). And gravity (in its “particle form” of individual gravitons) _also_ possess a very tiny mass. And, returning to general relatively: indeed, photon particles must possess a nearly infinitesimally small rest mass that cannot be absolute zero, either(!)

    . . . (Any way, any number of theories work around the idea of such a Beginning singularity in various ways — some of which have a big bang or cyclical “big bangs”. Similarly, certain theories tweak standard black hole cosmology, wherein supposedly a completely-formed will possess a singularity of infinite density in its center, too.)

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