Chapter 20. What Time Is Telling

“Bing bong” went the doorbell. Kay was in the garden planting onions, so I went to the door. It was our neighbor, Marie. I invited her in and offered to call Kay in from outside.

“Don’t interrupt her,” she said. “I just wanted to drop off this book of Jack’s. Found it when I was dusting and thought you might be interested.”

She handed it to me – another one of those popular books on time management. As I thanked her for keeping in mind my interest in time, I involuntarily chuckled.

“What?” she asked.

“Oh, my mind automatically plays around with words and meanings,” I explained apologetically. “This is a book about managing time. When I saw the title I immediately thought, ‘But no one can manage time – that is, control it.’ You know: time can’t be slowed down, speeded up, stopped or reversed. Jack’s book isn’t likely about managing time in that sense. It will be about managing ourselves – planning so as to make the most of the time we have.”

Marie canted her head a little and smiled. “Well, that’s a twist. Reminds me of last weekend when our grandson David was visiting us. At the table Jack and I were discussing how the crisis in the Middle East would turn out. We mentioned various possibilities and then I shrugged, ‘Time will tell.’

“Little David stopped eating and said, ‘You sometimes ask me to tell you the time. But you just said, ‘Time will tell.’ Do you mean that someday I won’t have to tell you the time?’”

“That David is a smart one,” I said. “He’ll likely turn the world upside down or inside out.”

“Time will tell.” She smiled and moved toward the street. “I’ve got to go now. See you.”

Michael Coventree also stopped by this afternoon. I told him about my conversation with Marie and we laughed about how common sayings twist the realities of time. He latched onto the expression, “Time will tell.” He told me he was thinking of getting some university people together to exchange ideas about time, and could I come and contribute some thoughts on what time tells about God?

My hesitation must have been obvious. I immediately felt thatthat topic would be unwelcome in a university gathering. In my experience of academic circles, presentations that take God seriously have been taboo. Michael picked up on my misgivings and assured me that he knows people who have become disillusioned about the way they and others have been behaving. They realize that everyone could profit by some spiritual assistance, so it’s more okay now to speak openly about spirituality.

I agreed that certain aspects of time do seem to have theological implications – especially if time is actually discrete. I thought it would be fairly easy to come up with points relevant to what Michael had in mind for his meeting, so I told him I would start preparing a presentation.

We chatted a while about working some thoughts about time into a show at the planetarium. After he had left to continue his afternoon walk, I began to reflect on what I might say to a possible university group about time and God.

The first obstacle I’ll have to get past will be the inevitable question, “What do you mean by God and why do you believe in such a being?”

That question has always posed a big intellectual problem. Nothing in this world or in our minds can provide an ultimate explanation for a unique Creator who has to be the ultimate basis of all explanation. Our minds have neither categories nor capacities sufficiently adequate to frame a fitting and fallacy-free definition or description of God. God overflows all our ordinary notions of being, cause, life, freedom, presence and perfection. When we explain anything, the terms and ideas we use have also to be explained, and so do those explanations. Nothing can be explained right to the bottom. When we have explained things as far as we can go, God, as the One who holds together all true explanations and is the explanation of the whole universe, seems to beckon us from the far side of all our stopping-points.

Pointing toward occasional significant happenings here and there is easy enough, but how can we definitively point to God at work everywhere at all times? People might feel uncomfortable if they realized that to point everywhere they would have to point to themselves. God is not an object which can be disassembled or otherwise analyzed. No set of known, absolute truths exists from which reasoning could derive the existence and nature of God as a conclusion which no one could doubt.

Nevertheless, human minds being what they are, a belief in God, or in some ultimate surrogate which performs God’s functions under some other name, seems inevitable.

Our minds are perpetually haunted by “What lies beyond?” What was before the beginning? What caused that cause? Is there anybody else out there? How ought things to be? Is this all there is? How will the story turn out? Who done it? Whose is this? How does it all fit together? Will this suffering ever end? What else can I try? Why can’t I? Why do I have to? Is death really the end? What will happen next? Suffice it to say, “the beyond” is never far from where our mind is at present.

When we reach our limit in thinking, we are abruptly brought up short like a dog chained to a post. We know there is something important beyond that gate in the hedge, but we aren’t able to grab hold of it. We can only sniff the breeze, listen for passing footsteps, and wonder about why and how the grass around us keeps on growing. We long for a world without ends.

Although I can’t offer an ironclad, unquestionable, logical proof of the Creator’s reality, I am not ashamed to believe in God. Faith is quite useful when absolutely certain knowledge is as yet impossible to achieve. Scientists know that good hypotheses often lead to discoveries. The faith component of my intellectual stance is at least as respectable as that of scientists who, having committed themselves to certain physical theories, spend their lives looking for gravitons, black holes, dark matter, decaying protons, free quarks, virtual particles and the like.

No cosmologist ever actually observed the Big Bang. Nevertheless the low level of microwave radiation which pervades space in every direction has been accepted as being the afterglow of the explosion which birthed the universe. I claim the same license to believe that the ongoing process of time which produces the continued existence and orderly transformation of the universe is another powerful clue to whatever may have even preceded the Big Bang.

We all live by and for things which we cannot prove without a tinge of doubt. We have to trust our friends. Even our money is only a promise to pay. The question “Is it real love?” has entered most partners’ minds. In the absence of completely adequate information we nevertheless often make decisions which are based on those kinds of meager foundations. It doesn’t take much to sustain a belief.

Driving on a dark night through the badlands of South Dakota is an eerie, desolate experience. How wonderful it is to become aware of a glow in the sky up out there far ahead – “That will be Rapid City.” Even though its source is out of sight, that subtle glow is enough to raise hope and revive the weary driver.

Everybody knows what it is to “read between the lines.” During the conversation at a dinner party we sometimes spot meaningful glances between individuals, and hear indirect references to things not fully expressed. All of us pay attention to mere hints, suggestions, insinuations and innuendo. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Our lack of absolutely certain knowledge seldom keeps us from “surmising” and inferring conclusions from very slight grounds.

Everything hints at something which lies beyond it. Everything has antecedents, context and consequences. Though God may not be apprehended or comprehended, we cannot account even for ourselves without somehow invoking The Beyond. We did not give ourselves our lives, our physical characteristics, our situation or our time in history. We are not our own. We have always relied upon the support of people, things and forces in whose existence we invested nothing – our “givens.”

By itself no single piece of belief-sustaining “evidence” is entirely adequate as a proof of the reality of God. Nevertheless many intertwined considerations provide a confirming rationale that is convincing enough for me. Along with other considerations, I have been especially impressed by the significant testimony to the existence of a Creator God which is presented by the universal process of time.

The “evidence” inherent in the process of time is more than merely cumulative. Each of time’s allusions to its divine source is like a single fiber that is too weak by itself to withstand much of a pull. But when a considerable number of such fibers intertwine they form, as it were, a fairly strong rope or cable that is well able to withstand considerable strain. That’s the way it is with my faith.

Here are some features of the process of time which for me have become fibers of faith. Here is what I believe time tells about God.

Source and supply

Science has been content to refer to time as simply a “given.” But what or who gives time? Its source is impossible to locate. Time has been operating simultaneously everywhere throughout the entire universe age after age. The inexhaustible wellspring which is the source of such an inconceivable output is surely extraordinary enough to merit the title of divinity.

Fly and flow

The time process is most clearly noticeable when things are moving. They can move at differing rates. For some purposes it may be desirable to compare one speed exactly with another. On a certain stretch of highway the speed limit may be set at 60 miles (90 kilometers) per hour. Those well-defined units of space and timehave long been used as standards for measuring rates of motion.

Occasionally however someone exclaims, “How time flies!” or some poet writes, “Time flows like a river.” If time is thought to be moving right along, it would seem to be entirely reasonable for someone to ask, “How fast does time fly or flow?”

I would begin to answer the question by asking what you mean by the ‘flying’ or ‘flowing’ of time. Just that you were totally absorbed in some pleasant, creative activity and suddenly realized that, because of some scheduled duty, you had to stop what you were doing. You simply paid no attention to anything else that may have been happening between the time you became absorbed in your engrossing pursuit and the time you remembered your other responsibilities.

It doesn’t make sense to try telling how fast clock-time goes in terms of clock-time itself. To ascertain the speed of clock-time we would have to compare its units with units of some other, more inclusive standard time. Unfortunately we don’t know of any such regularly recurring units which are not defined in terms directly related to our clock-time.

Even if some other kind of time were to be found, someone could then ask how fast the units of that time sped along. Then we’d have to look for yet another supra-time with standard units – which in turn would provoke the same question. This endless chase is like seeking the cause of a cause of a cause of a cause. In attempting to answer the question about the speed at which clock time proceeds, therefore, we are confronted by a clear choice: if we don’t like to adopt the unending echelon of higher and higher varieties of standard times, the only alternative is to decide that some higher level is the ultimate standard time. Choosing the latter alternative seems to make the most sense and feels simpler. That faith-choice, however, selects the life of the living God as the ultimate standard for time’s speed. But since that is not measurable by mortals, God alone could answer the question about time’s speed.

The universe as a whole had a history of existing in successive states for millions of years before the earth was born. During those earthless aeons the cosmic change process was proceeding without having its rate measured by any human contrivances. Scientists assume – that is, believe or take on faith – that that primeval time was proceeding at the same rate as the mundane clock-time which we know today. Reliable information about that pre-Earth period could be provided only by an ever-present and everlasting Observer/Creator. The only report which could be delivered would have to be formulated in terms of the uninterrupted eternity of God’s own “life.” In the tumultuous turmoil which probably followed the Big Bang, the life of the Creator – an eternal kind of time – would be the only orderly standard by which time’s advance could be gauged. That background reality, then and now, provides a meaningful if nonspecific answer to questions about time’s speed as well as other temporal conundrums.

Time without clocks

Cosmologists believe they have evidence that the universe is expanding uniformly in all directions. They project the expansion backwards through time until all the matter of all the galaxies must have been concentrated into a mere point of infinite density. Talk about black holes! Such a massive point must have had an unimaginably strong gravitational field. That being the case, it is difficult to understand how that primeval speck was able to expand at all and so inconceivably rapidly.

Physicists say that they cannot retrocalculate what happened in the first fractions of a second which followed the universe’s moment of birth. What do they mean by “the universe’s moment of birth”? The instant at which the infinitely massive point came into being or the beginning of the universe’s explosive expansion?

No one knows quite “when” the universe was that massive point. If that dot was already exploding at the very instant it was created, it would mean that the instant of its creation was the beginning moment of the time process which has been proceeding steadily ever since – a process which is appropriately conceived as continuing creation.

Perhaps however that single massive point just sat there inertly until some unique “fluctuation” occurred and triggered the Big Bang. That sequential persistence, its just being there, would mean that there was some kind of duration before the Big Bang.

No one knows why that proto-universe suddenly ceased to be a point and became an unimaginable fireball beginning to expand and become an extended universe. What decided the moment at which the speck’s infinite gravitational field was annihilated, letting the universe’s spectacular expansion begin?

A number of theories have been advanced to explain that singular development. Physicists who observe apparently spontaneous quantic changes in levels of atomic energy think of that initial expansion being just the first of many accidental thermodynamic “fluctuations.” Heat and motion are inescapably connected. No motions or thermodynamic changes, whether gradual or explosive, could have taken place, however, had time not been involved.

It is impossible to conceive of a “beginning” of any kind for the universe without some kind of “eternal time” which existed before that beginning and also continued as the background of everything which happened after that beginning. The beginning of something’s presence contains a tacit reference to its previous absence. “Previous” and “before” are time-involving words. We must either abandon all talk about the birth of the universe or admit that some kind of “time-like process” must have existed before the creation of the world and that it has continued ever since.

We face two possibilities. Was that primal massive point initiated by an extraordinarily powerful Agent for whom that “before-the-beginning” kind of time was intrinsically vital? Or did mass and time come into being simultaneously but quite inexplicably? The latter alternative is no explanation at all.

Even if mass and time did come into being simultaneously, nothing further could have happened without an ongoing of time. Where there is no time, there can be no change or motion, no fluctuation or inflation. This must imply either that time is itself the creator, or that the time we know manifests the agency of an everlasting Creator whose intrinsic dynamism is a kind of “time” which is not a “changeless eternity,” as it is sometimes mistakenly described.

If and when the original, infinitely massive point exploded into an immense fireball, that “infinite energy” must have dispersed in a rapidly expanding burst of extreme heat. In such a temperature no lasting structural features could possibly have taken form. If heat is the motion of particles and there were no stable particles in the first split seconds of the universe’s existence, at that stage the only imaginable sense of “time” would have to be a comparing of the whole universe’s rate of expansion with the transcendent duration of God.

Cool clocks

As the great pool of undifferentiated “energy” expanded, it would eventually cool down enough for the tiniest imaginable particles – say quarks and gluons – to condense out of the plasma. When any single cooled-out, identifiable and persisting particle of matter had bumped more than once into another particle, the “before” and “after” of those collisions would be unmistakable indicators that time was going on.

Time as we know it would also be evident when any newly formed particle began to vibrate regularly, as all enduring material particles do. A judgment of regularity requires comparison with a known absolute standard of regularity. Before any set of movements can be called “regular,” they must have been observed by someone with an infallibly accurate memory who could compare the rates of the movements in that set with the rate of other events which are already known with certainty to be recurring consistently at equal intervals.

The notion of “time” occurring before clocks of any kind could have come into being would, therefore, seem to imply the existence of some other regularly pulsing absolute kind of time. Motions which occurred immediately after vibrating particles originated could be called time only if there were an omnipresent Observer capable of perceiving the activities of those first particles, of remembering exactly what they had done and of comparing their repetitions with the regular pulses of the Observer’s own eternal absolute time.

Universal conformity

For a while after the Big Bang, the infant universe must have expanded in all directions at almost the speed of light. Since no causal influence can travel faster than the speed of light, widely separated portions of the expanding universe would eventually occupy positions from which they could never again have anything causal to do with one another. Cosmologists now believe that the universe is at least fifteen billion years old, so there must be unimaginably vast volumes of it which have never been in contact with each other since the beginning and probably never will be.

Yet the information which reaches Earth from every known region of the universe indicates that what is going on in galaxies which are far-flung in all directions is remarkably similar to what is known to be happening in our own galaxy and here on Earth. The chemical elements and forces which have been observed in operation out in farthest space are familiar to us. Physical interactions in the most distant realms are understandable in terms that are well known here. The frequencies of light and other radiation from the remotest sources confirm that time proceeds in the same direction out there as it does here.

How ought we to explain this immense, universe-wide, constitutional and behavioral conformity between causally disconnected portions of the universe? Physicists claim that the universality of the “laws of nature” accounts for this astonishing unanimity. These laws are believed to have always governed everything everywhere. They never change. Being inescapable, there is nowhere in which anything can hide from them. In the very moment any event begins to happen anywhere in the universe, the laws instantly take effect.

In my understanding “a law” means an obligatory rule of conduct imposed and enforced by a controlling authority. It implies that any attempt to act otherwise than the law prescribes will either be prevented from happening or result in punishment.

In itself a law is just a string of words which communicates the intention of a power-possessing, controlling authority. The mathematical formulae which scientists call “laws” are simply mathematical descriptions of what regularly happens in certain situations. By themselves descriptive “laws” exert no effective enforcing or controlling power. A highly significant question must be raised: what powerful agency first established these laws of nature and has continued for aeons to enforce them strictly everywhere throughout the entire extent of the universe?

The expressed consensus that the laws of nature control what happens throughout the universe sounds very impressive, but it makes no more sense to me than saying that “nature controls nature” – whatever “nature” may mean.

I suspect that attributing the behavioral conformity which exists across the vast universe to omnipresent, omnipotent “laws of nature” is a devious way of avoiding the ascription of that conformity to a single consistent Creator, whose power is present and effective everywhere at all times.

Action at a distance

Traditionally physicists have assumed that particles which were once closely connected, then separated and moved to a great distance from each other, could no longer influence each other in any way. In recent years, however, particle physicists have discovered that formerly connected subatomic particles which are now situated in different regions of space are not entirely unrelated to each other. Changing a characteristic of a particle, such as its polarity or polarization, can simultaneously change the matching characteristic of a formerly associated particle at a distance so great that even light from the first event could not have reached the other and informed it. This astounding realization has been unanimously confirmed by experiments done by a number of different teams.

Since all the surviving elements of the universe are believed to have been together in the beginning, all of them must still be somehow interconnected. If that is the case, the basic unit of the world is not a single, totally discrete particle, but rather a whole Now-state of the universe, a moment in the time-process which is cosmic creation. The components of each unitary Now-state are cross-connected in their simultaneity for the same reason that the Now-states of time are sequentially connected. These constitutional interconnections can be explained only by the intimate and immediate dependence of each and all of them upon the same Creator.

If widely separated particles which were formerly joined together can vary with each other when the polarity or polarization of one is changed, in the absence of any other explanation I would suggest that this phenomenon could imply that the one and the same Controller is simultaneously dealing with both terminals of the relationship-at-a-distance.

People have long wondered about the “spooky” feel of action-at-a-distance such as occurs with gravitation and electromagnetism. Why does an unsupported ball fall to the ground? That’s the phenomenon of gravitation, of course. According to Einstein, matter curves the space in its vicinity. Distant objects move along those spatial curves because those objects possess “potential energy.” That potential energy is equivalent to the amount of work required to reproduce the original configuration of those objects in space. No work is done without time. No configuration can change apart from time. The time that comes out in gravitational motion, therefore, must be the time that was formerly put into the extended layout of the universe. Although Einstein did not recognize it, in his scheme of things gravitation has to depend upon time. In searching the pedigree of “spooky” gravitation, we come once more to the Source of time and change – the Creator.

Why does a magnet line up iron filings? What is the source of the “charges” that mediate “electromagnetic force”? How does a negative charge “know” where in its vicinity a positive charge is located and why does it “seek” to whip over and join up with it?

Every point in space around Earth seems to have been temporarily given a magnetic field strength vector which can influence the trajectories ofcharged particles moving past. This explains the enchanting shapes assumed by the sweeping Aurora Borealis. If the Creator should but change the values offield strength vectors throughout a configuration of space points, that would produce or change all sorts of relationships-at-a-distance which are otherwise impossible to explain.

Well, I can put forward at least those points for Michael’s profs in my paper “What time tells about God.”

I have mentioned time’s hidden Source, its inexhaustibility, its perpetuation and its universality. Some transcendent kind of time would seem to be necessary before the universe began, also during the initial chaos of hot, unstable proto-particles. That same time is required as an ultimate standard for comparison in order to conceive the rate of mundane time’s passing. Because time operates the same way even in remote, causally disconnected regions of this vast universe, the universal presence and power of the same divine Creator is indicated. That universal presence could also explain the simultaneous, faster-than-light interrelations of separated but formerly connected particles as well as more commonly recognized kinds of “action-at-a-distance” such as gravitation and electromagnetic attraction.

In addition to these reasonable arguments, I think I will propose that the Creator’s everlastingness is the connective factor which gives a sense of “continuity” to the discrete quantic pulses of cosmic time. I can only hope that my reasoning may persuade some thinkers to at least consider that time could be telling them something about God.

Of course anyone who will not believe in God could regard as a cop-out my belief that time is the activity of God creating and recreating the world. They will say that using “God” to explain everything is to offer no explanation at all. Nevertheless I think that my reasoning is more humanly satisfying than the silent shrugs of scientists and philosophers who have simply given up altogether attempting to account for time’s existence and effects. My conviction has been reached from the best evidence, information and implications presently available to me. I will maintain and defend my opinion.