Posted by jlwile on May 16, 2009
In my previous post, I quoted Clement of Alexandria. He said that the days of Genesis 1 were not 24-hour days. Instead, they were simply used to indicate priority. In the end, he said:
And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist. 1
I find this statement intriguing, because even though it was written in the early third century, it indicates a modern understanding of time.
The ancient view of time, which prevailed really until the early 1900s, was that time is absolute. It marches resolutely forward at a strict pace no matter what happens throughout creation. However, when Einstein wrote his seminal work on special relativity in 1905, all that changed.
In Einstein’s view, the only things that are constant in nature are the laws of physics and the speed of light in a vacuum. In the end, all other aspects of nature must adapt in order to keep the laws of physics and the speed of light in a vacuum the same no matter what is going on. So even if I am moving relative to an experiment, when I observe the experiment as it takes place, I should see the experiment behaving according to the same laws of physics that I observe when I am at rest.
Now most people think that all this sounds reasonable until they realize what it means. For example, suppose I have a hand-held mirror, and I am holding it in the dark. Suppose also that I have a button that turns on a light near my head. If I am at rest and push the button, I will see my ugly face reflected in that mirror almost instantaneously, because light travels from my face to the mirror and back to my eyes so quickly (at 3×108 m/sec) that it takes almost no time for my ugly face to appear in the mirror. Einstein says that even if I am traveling with the mirror in my hand at 99.999999999% the speed of light, I should still see my reflection almost instantaneously when I press the button.
So what does this tell us? Well, according to Einstein, light travels from my face at the same speed as it did when I was at rest, but the mirror is traveling away from the light at nearly the same speed. Thus, the light is traveling barely faster than the mirror. So if time passes the same for me when I am traveling as it did when I was at rest, it would take a long time for the light to catch up to the mirror and hit it. As a result, it would take a long time for my ugly face to show up in the mirror. That can’t happen, however, because I must see light traveling at the same speed whether I am at rest or whether I am moving. Thus, in order for that to happen, time must pass much more slowly for me when I am traveling near the speed of light than it does for someone who is at rest relative to me. That way, my ugly face still appears nearly instantaneously in the mirror as far as I am concerned.
Now as odd as this seems, it has been experimentally verified in many different ways. Thus, the passage of time depends on how quickly you are traveling. It’s not that you notice time passing slowly when you are moving quickly. It seems that time passes the same when you are moving and when you are at rest. In fact, for you, it really does. The only time you notice the difference is when you compare how time passed for you to how time passed for someone who was at rest. The classic example is a man who gets on a spacecraft and travels to a distant planet and back at speeds close to the speed of light. When he gets back, his twin brother is an old man, but he has hardly aged at all. Throughout the entire trip, the man in the spaceship thought time was passing the same as always. However, relative to his twin who he left behind, it moved very slowly.
If this isn’t bad enough, Einstein proposed a more comprehensive version of his theory (general relativity) in 1916. In this theory he proposed that time passes differently depending on the local gravitational field. If you are exposed to a strong gravitational field, time passes more slowly than if you are exposed to a weak gravitational field. Once again, this might sound odd, but it has been experimentally verified. In fact, the Global Positioning System verifies it every nanosecond of every day. GPS satellites orbiting the earth experience a lower gravitational field than we do here on the surface of the earth. If the GPS did not take into account that time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on earth, it would not work. In fact, because the satellites are orbiting the earth at a high speed, there is also a special relativity correction that must be made as well. It turns out that the general relativity correction is more important, but both need to be made.
So what’s the point to all this? Time is not invariant. It depends on at least two things: the speed at which you travel and the gravitational fields to which you are exposed. How does this relate to Clement’s statement that I gave at the beginning of the article? Well…the creation of the universe was clearly an amazing process. During that process, lots of things must have been changing in lots of different ways. Most likely, some things traveled very quickly. Most likely, the gravitational field to which many things on earth were exposed changed drastically over the course of the creation event.
In addition, since it took us all the way to 1916 in order to learn that time passes differently depending on two conditions (speed and gravitational fields), it is reasonable to assume that there are probably other conditions that affect how time behaves. Most likely, those conditions were in amazing flux during the creation event as well.
Thus, if we think about all the incredible changes that had to be a part of the creation process, it only makes sense that the flow of time during the creation event was not constant. Most likely, time passed very slowly during parts of the creation process and very quickly during other parts of the creation process. Indeed, I expect there were instances when time passed more slowly in one part of creation than it did in another part of creation. In fact, there were probably parts of the creation process in which time moved slowly in one region of the earth and quickly in another region of the earth.
As a result, the idea of trying to determine “how long” the creation process took place is rather meaningless. Time doesn’t even behave nicely in our PRESENT universe. How in the world can you think it behaved nicely while the universe was being created? This is not really what Clement was saying (he thought the creation process was instantaneous). Nevertheless, I think that his statement contains some truth. Most likely, the very act of creation affected time itself. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to talk about how long the creation process took. Time didn’t become what it is today until God completed His supernatural work in creation. That’s what modern physics says, and it is also what Clement of Alexandria wrote. Not bad for someone writing in 205 AD, huh?
1. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 16, 205 AD
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