Date: October 10, 2018 11:38AM
We have spent a lot of time on the Board recently discussing Einstein’s views regarding the existence or non-existence of “God.” Of far more interest and relevance to religion, and religious faith, are Einstein’s views regarding special and general relativity (hereafter “relativity”); views that are wholeheartedly embraced by the scientific community and lay public alike, notwithstanding its counter-intuitive and destructive implications for both religion and humanism.
Relativity, in a nutshell, involves the merging of space and time into space-time, calling time a 4th dimension. This essentially “spacializes” time with the three normal dimensions of space. By so doing, time, as representing the temporal order of things as “moving” through a “living” past, present and future, is destroyed in favor of viewing time as a mathematical, static, component of an event’s “world-line.” Consider some quotes, selected specifically for their lucidity in the present context. These quotes are from two well-established scholars. Lee Smolin, an eminent theoretical physicist, and Michael Lockwood, an Oxford philosopher of science, who is also well-established as highly knowledgeable on these issues.
First, from Smolin, taken from his book, Time Reborn, we see that under relativity time and motion are dissolved into a space-time geometry: [Note references to “Minkowski” are to Herman Minkowski, who expanded upon Einstein’s views in a matter that Einstein acknowledged and accepted.]
“[E]very physical fact of motion implied by special relativity is represented as a theorem about the geometry of spacetime. Minkowski's invention of what we now call Minkowski spacetime was a decisive step in the elimination of time, because it persuasively established that all talk of motion in time could be translated into mathematical theorems about a timeless geometry. As Herman Weyl, one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century put it: 'The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the world line of my body, does a section of the world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time.'”
COMMENT: This implies a “block-universe” view of the universe, where all events existing in spacetime--considered by humans as events in the past, present, and future--are equally real. Back to Smolin:
“What's powerful about this block-universe argument is that to entertain it you need only believe that the present is real; the argument then forces you to believe that the future and the past are as real as the present. But if there is no distinction between present, past, and future--if the formation of the Earth or the birth of my great great great grandaughter are as real as the moment in which I write these words--then the present has no special claim to reality, and all that's real is the whole history of the universe.”
Turning to Lockwood (from his book, The Labyrinth of Time), we see that the implication of this block universe idea is the elimination of freewill:
“To take the space-time view seriously is indeed to regard everything that ever exists, or ever happens, at any time or place, as being just as real as the contents of the here and now. And this rules out any conception of free will that pictures human agents, through their choices, as selectively conferring actuality on what are initially only potentialities. Contrary to this common-sense conception, the world according to Minkowski is, at all times and places, actually through and through: a four-dimensional block universe. The stark choice that faces us, therefore, is either to accept this view, with all that it may entail for such concepts as that of moral responsibility, or else to insist that relativistic invariance is a superficial phenomenon--a misleading facade, behind which is a genuine, honest-to-goodness passage of time, in which certain preferred spacelike hypersurfaces successively bear the mantle of objective presentness.”
COMMENT: So, the block universe view implies that human freewill is an illusion. As such, embracing freewill in light of relativity suggests a kind of religious faith. Back to Lockwood:
“Nothing in the physics of special relativity actually forces us to abandon the common-sense picture, according to which there is an objective, albeit constantly shifting, boundary that separates the real, and wholly fixed, past from a currently unreal, and partly open, future. . . It has to be said, though, that, in the absence of any scientific reason for doing so, this would strike many people as comparable to embracing an article of religious faith.”
Lockwood discusses relativity in the context of death, by alluding to Einstein’s response to the death of his friend, Michele Besso:
“Upon the death, in March 1955, of one of his oldest and closest friends, Michele Besso, Einstein sent the Besso family a letter of condolence that bears eloquent and poignant testimony to his personal conviction that relativity, properly understood, requires us to relinquish the tensed view of time. In this letter, written less than a month before his own death, Einstein says of his friends: 'He is now a little ahead of me in bidding his strange world farewell. That means nothing. For us devout physicists, the distinction between past, present and future likewise has no significance beyond that of an illusion, albeit a tenacious one.'”
COMMENT: Here, Einstein, at a time close to his own death, expresses the view that relativity offers some level of comfort to the bereaved. But does it really. Lockwood continues:
“Regarded in this light, death is not the deletion of a person's existence. It is an event, merely, that marks the outer limit of that person's extension in one (timelike) spatio-temporal direction, just as the person's skin marks out the limit in other (spacelike) directions. The space-time view is, therefore, inconsistent with our regarding one of those limits, but not the others, as a cause for sadness.”
COMMENT: So, the dead continue to exist, but we still have no access to or association with them. They exist in a space-time "place" to which we [presumably] can no longer visit. This does not offer much comfort, but rather just changes the nature of our loneliness for the deceased.
Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity are well-established by experimental evidence. It directly implies a block universe idea of space and time, which eliminates the intuitive reality of motion, temporal order, and freewill. Since freewill is essential in both religious and anti-religious (humanistic) views of life, both emphasizing life’s meaning and freewill, relativity plays havoc with both. Thus, whether Einstein personally believed in God, or not, is irrelevant. His theory makes the traditional belief in God dead on arrival, including deism, unless there is a reality outside of the universe, which he would certainly deny. Humanism fairs no better, because, as noted, without time and freewill there can be no context or means to change either one’s personal fate, or the fate of society generally through human activism.
The above fundamental problem of reconciling human freewill with science surfaces throughout science. There is no room in any scientific theory for human freewill. Thus, if one insists on freewill—which I do—such theories must be either wrong or incomplete. And frankly, with respect to relativity it is hard to see a modification of the theory that salvages time and human freewill. But, there are scientific efforts to lighten this load. Smolin's book is one of them.
To my way of thinking, a scientific theory that utterly destroys the most fundamental requirement of a meaningful life, e.g. the existence of human beings in real time, and the capacity to make free choices, must be rejected, regardless of how much that theory is entrenched in the scientific establishment, or held in awe by those who do not understand it. Notwithstanding its great achievements, science has repeatedly shown to be susceptible of error and shortsightedness. I believe in giving freewill, and thus the meaningfulness of human life, the benefit of the doubt.