The conception of cosmic time as discrete suggests thoughts about God which I believe are worth setting forth. My presentation will at least demonstrate that in my mind this concept of time is deeply entangled with theological considerations.
In science the subject of time, like all other physical phenomena, can be dealt with apart from theology. Time is identified as “relative motion,” and motions are believed to have been determined by initial conditions, causality, energy and the “laws of nature.” Apart from the initial conditions of the universe as a whole, these factors are present, observable and demonstrable. Their ultimate origin is of little immediate importance, so in science speculations about a Creator need not be taken into account.
Many scientists believe that time is simply a fourth dimension of the universe, one of many “givens.” As long as they have the givens, they need not concern themselves with any Giver. This attitude draws a closure line which deserts the very causal principle which is basic to scientific research. Besides, it is based on the dogmatically assumed definition that “creation” happened only in the distant past.
Relativists are fixated on clock readings. They find that they cannot assign simultaneity to cosmic events at uncertain distances, nor can they correlate clock readings if the speeds of the clocks are greatly different with respect to each other. Because their clocked observations of stellar events are so relative, they conclude that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an absolute cosmic time. To me that conclusion seems to have been reached much too hastily.
One can speak intelligently about time without referring to man-made clocks. Events must actually happen in some order – first this state then that – whether or not those occurrences can be observed or clocked. The problems encountered by observers in correlating observed events with earth-based clock registrations have no necessary relevance to the order in which phases and states of actual events are occurring at each location throughout the universe. Serial orders of events – previous and after – are always proceeding even at widely separated locations. Although the coincidence of two or more individual events within separated serial orders cannot be proven to have been simultaneous, such simultaneities must nevertheless be always occurring. The difference between the two approaches to time – actual order of occurrence versus relative observations of clocks – will become clear in the following analogy.
Through the years each particular room in the Sunset Motel will have been occupied by a long succession of different overnighters. That is, individual rooms are always occupied by guests in an ordered sequence. From guest registration records the names of the successive occupants of each room could be listed in the order of their occupancy. Knowing when an individual checked in or how long a certain guest stayed or who else occupied other rooms in the motel on a given night is not relevant to the order in which a succession of definite individuals actually occupied a certain room.
Any particular place in the universe may likewise be considered as a channel for a series of transformations of its contents. Indeed, the universe as a whole has always been and still is being characterized by successive configurations of events. These actually occurring local and cosmic orders of events take place irrespective of all relativistic observations.
Furthermore the tempo of the order of changes in any location must coordinate with the tempo of the order of changes in adjacent places. If on any night a pushy latecomer absolutely insists on having a room at the Sunset Motel when all rooms have already been allocated, the manager will refuse to change the established order of occupation for any room. Similarly, if an intruding, quite different temporal sequence of events were to interfere with a given local ordering of events, there would be trouble. It would be like trying to install foreign gears in a car’s transmission – gears whose teeth will not mesh with the teeth of the gears which are already present. Disparate sets of gears vying for the same location would inevitably clash and strip, and the whole transmission would tear itself to pieces.
If this world’s events were not happening in accord with a single universal cosmic tempo, the notion of one “universe” would have to be abandoned. Various motions may proceed at different rates in different places but, just as sounds from different orchestral instruments playing different lines of music in the same key at the same time must conform to the same tempo, all physical motions, whatever their rates, must be in synch with the tempo of the universal process of cosmic creation time. That’s where a single divine Source of cosmic coordination becomes a meaningful concept.
If cosmic time is discrete and universal, belief in a God who is presently creating and recreating the universe makes good sense. The Source of a sequence of impulses, each of which can affect the whole universe at once, must be regarded with profound respect. The One who keeps creating new relationships throughout the entire universe moment by moment merits the rank and titles of Creator and God. As I have shown, the idea of discrete cosmic time cannot be taken seriously if the reality and power of God are not acknowledged.
Science in general could not exist if the world had no regularities and did not behave in orderly ways. Engineers know that they have to work within the laws of motion and thermodynamics. Physicists rely on the law of the conservation of energy, the law of inverse squares, Ohm’s law and many constants. Chemists recognize Boyle’s law and laws concerning chemical equilibrium, combining volumes, heat summation, pressure and effusion. The periodic table of the elements classifies perennially distinguishable types of matter, and the classification fits with the atomic theory of matter. The principles of the interactive bonding of the various substances are well known. Biologists are familiar with Mendel’s laws of heredity, the Krebs cycle and the Calvin cycle. On a less arcane level, the seasons regularly change, sunlight on raindrops makes rainbows, and water flows downhill. The orderliness of the world must be accounted for.
All of this interlocking orderliness, these regularities and constants, were characteristic of the world for aeons before humans appeared upon the earth. The created order was not invented by scientifically minded people – they have simply taken notice that it was already here and still is.
Scientists believe that the world is intelligible. Our “knowledge” would not be reliable if the structural relations which are found in the actual physical world did not correspond to the relations which our rational minds understand to obtain among those physical features. Just as a map can correctly represent the relations of roads to towns, houses, streams and lakes, so thoughts can match the systemic order which is evident in the world’s processes. This matching is what makes possible the predictability of eclipses and explains why technology works.
No one has accounted scientifically for the present existence of the universe, or for the persistence of its orderly phenomena. The production of this universe was and is undoubtedly a God-size feat. The human mind is as much a part of the world as are oxygen, water, iron and planets. The correspondence between a rational mind’s knowledge and the actual world’s order suggests to me that a Mind capaciously more intelligent than human minds created and is creating both the universe and human minds.
There does not seem to be any obvious reason why there should be a universe at all, or why the one that exists should have the particular characteristics which it has. This would suggest that the Mind which has been responsible for it all has selected certain particular ordering principles from a host of possible alternatives. That in turn would suggest that the Creator is capable of making value decisions. The notion of a mind doing things in an orderly way would seem to imply that that mind had a purpose. “Because I wanted to” is always a humanly satisfying and sufficient self-explanatory principle. In the absence of any other ultimate explanation for this orderly world, I have chosen to believe in an intelligent, powerful God with a value-sustaining purpose.
What purpose? Why did God take on the project of creating a universe in the first place? Was God bored? Playful? Lonely? Unloved? Or was God’s primordial bliss so eminently desirable that it cried out to be multiplied, extended and distributed throughout a created world? Is the creation of all sorts of possible systems a means of uncovering and demonstrating the tremendous scope of the Creator’s potential capabilities? Or was God bent on experimenting to determine which kinds and combinations of things would work together the most beautifully and harmoniously in a best-possible-world-to-come?
Whatever the Creator’s primordial condition may have been, it must have been in some respect unsatisfactory. If God’s eternal state had been one of absolute perfection, what motivation would there have been to commence a brand new, ongoing activity – creating.
Having decided to create, why did the Creator decide to create serially with time? Why didn’t God do everything that was to be done all at once?
If everything that God could ever create had been brought into existence in one grand coup, the histories of all possible worlds would have been merged into one single blast. If all conceivable events, however contradictory, had happened at once they would have cancelled each other out. A single instant of mishmashed everything would not have been worth creating. The result of such a one-shot creation would not have been any better than having nothing at all. Perhaps it might have been worse, because such a messy event would have forestalled the creation of really worthwhile things. God wisely decided to create a world with successive changes in it. The phrase “in the beginning” has meaning only if a time-process is forthcoming.
The principle by which an order is established is not itself a member of the class of the things which are ordered. If a number series is described by 2n-1, 2n-1 is not itself one of the ordered numbers. The blocks of my childhood knew nothing of order; it was I who chose the order which was established among them. Likewise the Creator of a time-ordered world must be significantly different from that world. The everlasting continuity which underlies the order of God’s acts is quite different from the discreteness of the created order in mundane temporal processes.
In creating, the first Now-state which God brought into existence was something which was distinctly other than the One created it. Maybe that first Now-state was the infinitely massive speck from which the extended universe is alleged to have sprung. The beginning of the ensuing inflation process – the so-called Big Bang – was the second created Now-state. With that second state of the universe, the relationship of created “before-and-after” appeared. Cosmic creation time had begun, as distinguished from God’s eternal kind of time.
Time and trouble
Successive revisions of those first creative fiats would necessarily bring about certain aspects of time which could turn into “chronic evils” (chronos is a Greek word for “time”). For example, changing anything means that something which once existed is being altered or replaced by something different – not necessarily a happy experience for either whatever is undergoing change or for whomever was emotionally attached to it as it was.
If at a single stroke, however, the Creator had produced a completely perfect and finished universe, what could be done with it? As mentioned earlier, any changes in an absolutely perfect world would have had to be changes for the worse. The created universe is therefore not yet what it will be. It is still “under construction.”
If God had decided to create only one single solitary thing, without anything else out there in the nothingness to compare with that solitary entity, none of its possible changes or motions would have had significant relevance. In the absence of anything else to which it could be related, that first and single thing would have been of no use at all – a dead end. If a “single thing” approach to the creation project had been adopted, that thing would be making a difference only to its Creator.
By creating more than one thing, however, the Creator could work up a useful variety of potentialities and possibilities with which to work (or play). A plurality of things would require a plurality of places. To provide an arena in which many kinds of motions and changes could happen, space would be necessary. Space however would make collisions possible. Individuals who might want to be together could become separated. A world with many things, many kinds of things and many varieties of each kind of thing, however, could be related in many complex, orderly, interesting and useful ways. These could be combined and recombined in countless interesting and useful configurations. Their interrelationships could generate all sorts of delightful and ingenious emergences and potentialities.
A pluralistic world, however, could also be plagued by problems. Individuals in any group cannot be endowed absolutely equally. At the very least, each one must occupy a position which no other can occupy at the same time. The view from there will not be the same as the view facing others located elsewhere. Every thing and person has to be different in some way from every other or confusion of identities will result. It would be an awful and absolutely meaningless situation if everything and everyone were exactly alike in every conceivable way. On the other hand, if persons are created with capabilities of conscious rational comparison, some of their particular differences can be employed as advantages with which to overpower anything or anyone else worse off. Differences can also be construed by some as disadvantages and accordingly be resented as unfair inequalities. The list of “evils” and troubles which can thus arise out of plurality and variety may include pride, complaining, envy, greed, conflict, competitive strife, conquest and plunder.
The Creator would inevitably be criticized for not having distributed power and properties equally. “Satanic” murmurings would arise among intelligent beings – even protests and accusations that God had selfishly and deliberately withheld from them those eternal potencies, powers and prerogatives which the Creator alone could possess. Some humans are still determined to go to any expense in order to demonstrate that they can duplicate God’s creative feats. So far no one has discovered the secret of life or time. The terrific expense of trying in a laboratory to combine common ingredients so as to produce a living organism seems highly amusing when one realizes that a male and a female mouse can do the trick so cheaply.
Some people believe that God is all-wise, all-powerful and all-good. Problematic features of the created world, however, lead other people to disbelieve in such a God. After a good deal of thought I have come to realize that the Creator had to choose between having no world at all and creating – with time – a multifarious world with a vast potential for developing both good and evil. In any case, none of the Creator’s critics has so far been able to design a world in which there would be absolutely no possibility of anything occurring which would be undesirable or evil. A number of visionary utopias have been proposed but few perceptive people would really want to live in any of them.
About free will
The reason the Creator bestowed upon the creatures a power of decision-making is not clear. What is clear is that none of us humans would be happy to see ourselves as mere puppets on strings pulled by an all-powerful puppeteer. Perhaps the divine intention was and is to create a world where everything and everybody freely cooperates harmoniously with trusting goodwill. God probably dreamed of creating a world in which all things would freely work together for good. But that word “freely” implies that from within themselves God’s creatures could adopt attitudes, initiate changes and direct actions for good or for ill. The optional opportunities which God keeps offering creatures moment by moment for their preferential decision may be a testing. Acceptance or rejection of opportunities for good can reveal each creature’s chosen attitude, values and character. That would determine its potential worth for future use in another kind of world.
Since the creatures are participants in the divine plan, it is easy to believe that the Creator would be earnestly interested in their well-being, performance and decisions. By creating a world of many diverse, self-determining things and persons whose well-being and destiny God intensely cared about, however, the Creator was sure to be subjected to a torrent of pain and disappointment. Although they could decide otherwise, free creatures may want to exert hurtful influence upon others. Despite the risk of intense perpetual suffering, God continued to create, allowing some decision-making freedom to creatures in a world which also carries great potentialities and possibilities for divine satisfaction, even joy. In accepting responsibility for creating a world of beings that can choose to go wrong, God has chosen to endure the torture of what amounts to an everlasting “Cross.”
Whatever God’s goal in creating may be, it would not be reachable if the interrelations of things and creatures got completely out of hand. Safeguards had to be instituted. Giving creatures no freedom to make bad choices would have defeated the purpose of the whole creative process. Creaturely freedom however had to be limited. It is possible to set bounds for freedom without turning creatures into totally controlled puppets. A caged lion is free to move anywhere within its cage, but it is not allowed to move anywhere outside the cage. The wisest of the human race have learned by experience that the consequences of indulging in certain kinds of behavior are in the long run, to say the least, not rewarding.
The possibility of terminating the existence of things and persons by giving them a limited life span offers another way of keeping noxious influences under control. If fallible creatures were endowed with interminable life spans they could live forever, regardless of their performance. If their continued existence were absolutely independent of God, they could continue to disrupt any or every worthwhile enterprise and get away with it. A rogue who possessed unending life could defy the Creator’s good plan forever. If pernicious creatures were allowed forever to wreak uncheckable havoc, God’s great dream of a world willingly cooperating harmoniously would have to be abandoned.
By creating in successive discrete acts God solved the control problem – no creature would be given more than a moment’s existence at a time. If creaturely existence is not self-sustained and life is doled out only moment by moment, incorrigible behavior cannot go on forever. A policy of creating just much at a time maintains God’s freedom to continue or to terminate any life span. If the Creator has reason to anticipate an evil-doer’s repentant change of heart in a better direction, that lifetime could be lengthened. If a life which has been fulfilling God’s purpose is cut off, that life can be resumed elsewhere and elsewhen at the Creator’s pleasure. The continuation of life depends not only upon a life-sustaining environment and the maintenance of a healthy life style, but ultimately upon God’s gracious forgiveness.
More time troubles
Successive creative acts could have taken place in two possible modes: randomly or orderly. A universe of random, kaleidoscopic, discrete Now-states would be useless for pursuing any constant purpose. There being no meaningful point to chaotic randomness, the Creator chose the alternative mode: creating an orderly succession of world configurations, each of which would be clearly related to those coming before and to those coming after them. I call this successive, correlated style of creating “cosmic creation time.”
This mode of “time-plan” has several advantages. A portion of any particular distribution of things can be preserved in much the same configuration, while the rest of the spread is being rearranged. Different things can be moved around simultaneously in different directions, and things in different milieus can be changed at different rates. If at any time situations are developing unsatisfactorily, the Creator can take steps to remedy the disappointing relatings. If the ongoing of time proceeds as a sequence of discrete acts, God has an opportunity to improve things, to heal wounds and to see that wrongs will come out right in the long run. Even in a disappointing situation the Creator can select information which is worthy and preserve it for eventual reembodiment in better circumstances.
The sequential creation of finite Now-states, however, does have certain drawbacks. Every level and aspect of everything and everyone is affected. No situation, creature or person can remain permanently and identically the same. The gradual or sudden loss of valuable things, or of people whom we love and admire, inevitably brings suffering, sadness and regret.
Cosmic creation time can also introduce problems of “timing.” From someone’s point of view, some situations and processes seem to last too long, while others do not last long enough. Developments can get distressingly out of synch. A fine day for a picnic may prolong the drought in the fields. Frosty weather can ruin the fruit crop if the trees produce their tender blossoms too early. Help may arrive too late to save someone trapped in a burning house or vehicle.
Because creatures are not the Creator, they cannot hasten or slow the rate at which cosmic time is proceeding. Concrete takes time to harden and watched kettles take too long to boil. Children who are eagerly looking forward to a birthday or Christmas find that the days pass far too slowly. For kids who overslept and need to catch the school bus, time goes far too fast. To anyone who is threatened by the approach of a fearsome future, time seems to be racing.
To reach the satisfying end of a process, whether we like it or not, we have to go through various stages in a certain order, one at a time, one before another, one after another. When there is much to be said in a short time, it is annoying to have to say it one word at a time. The process of sending a letter can seem terribly tedious. Before posting a letter one must first find a writing instrument and suitable paper. After thinking out and writing the message, one must find an envelope, find the proper address, write it correctly on the envelope, insert the letter, seal the envelope, affix a stamp and put the letter in a post box. It is definitely unproductive to post a sealed, unaddressed, empty envelope. We must not miss a single step.
Moreover cosmic time cannot be turned backward. It keeps heading inexorably in the same direction – toward the future and away from the past. Whatever has been said cannot be called back. What has been known to have been done cannot be undone. Repair work has to proceed in the same old direction.
However problematic these aspects of cosmic time may be, it must be remembered that creating the world in the “successive time / limited span” mode was the only feasible way the Creator could make a world which is not a haphazard jumble, motionless tableau, or hapless puppet show.
We can never be quite sure that any incident or situation which we definitely dislike or deplore is really an unmitigated evil. On looking back after an accident, illness or failure, we are quite often able to be thankful, seeing that God brought some good out of it, good which could not have been achieved in any other way. What seem to be chance events, such as accidents, failures, mistakes, random mutations or unpredictable fluctuations, can eventually be integrated with God’s inscrutable future action. No tragic events can occur without involving some good. Those who serve others realize that some kinds of good can only be attained by means of painful sacrifices. The chain of predation is a good example of this principle: one creature must die that another may live. God’s ingenuity in bringing good out of terribly difficult circumstances must never be underestimated. When a promising path of progress gets blocked, God will find or make a detour. A mountain stream cannot be permanently and completely dammed.
Any distressing happening may be a necessary phase of a wonderful major development which is too extensive for our limited vision to comprehend or imagine. Or it may be only an intermediate stage in a long process which will eventually produce some good or excellence that could not be actualized in any other way. If we could live long enough, we would be better able to judge whether what we didn’t like about time’s developments in this world had really turned out in the end to have been good. In the meantime, if it were not for my own faith-choice, my attitude toward time would still be wobbling unstably – my time syndrome.
The intrinsic nature of time does present endless opportunities for adopting dismal and terrifying negative attitudes. But time is not all bad news. It would be a rare individual whose memory contained no recollection of happiness and no glint of worthwhile accomplishment. In every situation right now there is always something for which to be thankful. The overburden of present difficulties can be concealing an as-yet-undiscovered vein of precious potentialities. Most people can dream up, plan for and anticipate satisfactions which tomorrow or the following days could provide. When time is approached with a grateful, positive, hopeful, wide-angle attitude and with confidence in the goodness and love of God, it will not be feared as the heartless, threatening tyrant with which my “Time Syndrome” began.
Time is still a great mystery. Reflection upon our experiences does not seem to present any impeccable reason for adopting a single, clear meaning or explanation for time. The world is replete with opposite concepts: positive and negative, presence and absence, sunlight and shadows, stars and darkness, flowers and fallen leaves, pleasures and pains, life and death. It is quite understandable that any thinking person can be afflicted with the pendulum swings of the “Time Syndrome.”
I have found that an emotionally stable attitude toward the whole scene may be attained, however, by choosing to believe, despite all appearances to the contrary, that the creative power behind this world has been working towards a humanly desirable goal. Such a belief is engendered by taking seriously the humanity of Jesus as well as his divinity. God chose to be existentially involved in this physical world and lived in it in a human way. By becoming flesh and dwelling among us in this “worldly” world, Jesus demonstrated the Creator’s serious and unreserved committal to making and upholding this heart-breaking world. God still regards the world as “very good” – serviceable for the divine purpose – and has not abandoned us.
The elements of Jesus’ body were derived from this world as he grew from baby to manhood. He too had to wash himself and perform all normal bodily functions. He got tired, slept, appreciated the flowers and sparrows, shed tears, was tempted, became angry, and participated in the complicated processes of contemporary social, economic and political life. He was always healing people’s injuries and physical disabilities. He was concerned about people’s economic welfare and imparted wisdom which, if followed, could bring about a realm of human relations which would fulfill God’s great dream.
On a wooden cross, transfixed by iron spikes, Jesus took this world’s pain upon himself. This showed that God not only suffers on account of hurtful human behavior, but also takes a share of the responsibility for the world’s evil in creating a world where evil is possible.
The Creator is not like a friend of mine who spent years building a boat in his basement and was greatly chagrined to discover that he couldn’t get the precious craft out if he kept all walls intact. Because Jesus’ physical body was not abandoned, but was raised from death to higher life, it appears that God continues to be deeply concerned about this world, its living things, its humans and our organizations and history.
Need I say more about “the worldliness of God the Creator”?