Feb 9th, 2022
Last time, we talked about relativistic time and its implications for faith in a theistic god. That conversation was... heady to say the least. So, here to help us further understand what all that means is our good friend Dr. Timothy Maness. We talk about the flow of time, where/when God is, fate, and more. Ready to have your mind blown?
Timothy Maness is a scholar of science and religion whose recent dissertation, which he is currently adapting into a book, discusses ways of reconciling relativistic physics with a flowing model of time, in which past, present and future are really distinct from one another. It also explores how a relativistic theory of flowing time can complement Abrahamic theology, and serve as the basis for a view of existence centered on personhood.
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produced by Zack Jackson
music by Zack Jackson and Barton Willis
This transcript was automatically generated by www.otter.ai, and as such contains errors (especially when multiple people are talking). As the AI learns our voices, the transcripts will improve. We hope it is helpful even with the errors.
Zack Jackson 00:06
You are listening to the down the wormhole podcast exploring the strange and fascinating relationship between science and religion. Our guest today is an incredible scholar of science and religion whose recent dissertation which he is currently adapting into a book discusses ways of reconciling relativistic physics with a flowing model of time, in which past, present and future are really distinct from one another. It also explores how a relativistic theory of flowing time can complement Abrahamic theology, and serve as the basis for a view of existence centered on personhood, here to unpack what all of that means, and more is our good friend, Dr. Timothy Maness. Welcome to the podcast. Tim.
Tim Maness 00:50
Hi. It's great to be here. Yeah, I've been I've been a regular listener. And I've been I've been wanting to get on for quite some time.
Zack Jackson 00:57
I have been, we have been talking about having you on since almost the beginning of the podcast. So I do apologize.
Tim Maness 01:03
I know you guys have had a lot of things to talk about to, to clarify for our listeners, the wonderful Sinai and Synapses fellowship that is, is run by the the Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the the same cohort of fellows were the hosts of the podcast met, I also had the privilege of meeting them as well. So we were we were all friends in that, that fellowship. So we've known each other for a while now. It was
Zack Jackson 01:33
a very good cohort. And the very first time that I met him, I remember us standing awkwardly as people do when they first meet, maybe nibbling on a bagel or something and saying, What are you doing? And of course, I felt completely out of place. Because, you know, I'm a, I'm a pastor who likes science, and I'm in a room filled with people with advanced degrees and understandings of things that are beyond my, my understanding, and that, you know that what do they call it? That imposter syndrome that everyone? You know, everyone will? I do? Say everyone, because we all think we're imposters, right? Yep, yep. Yeah, I was really feeling it. And I was all I had done some work in seminary on on relativistic time, and theology and our understanding of God and salvation. And so when I asked him, What is he was working on. And he said, he explained some of his dissertation and how it was exactly what I had been working on, I got so excited, I said, we need to talk, I need to read this, I need to, we need to hear it. And then when he started explaining it, to me, it went so far over my head, I realized how much I still had to learn. And I have and he's been really helpful in helping me to understand some things and inspiring me to learn more and to dig deeper into the things I thought I knew, and the implications that I thought were there. And so it's, it's, it's really nice to have you here to help unpack and open up some of this stuff. I think it was St. Augustine that said, I understand time fully until you asked me to explain it. I,
Tim Maness 03:07
that's that's one of my go to quotations, I think might be the introduction of my dissertation starts with that.
Zack Jackson 03:15
Oh, well, there you go. That's, that'd be fun to defend, I would imagine, where you just start off by saying, I can't explain any of this stuff.
Tim Maness 03:24
Yeah, yeah. But one of the things I want to argue is that is that you know, the average person, but But you, dear listener, understand time in you that you have in an important understanding of time, that, that you that ought to be taken into account. And that one of the ways that, that a lot of the philosophy of time over the past, you know, century and a bit has has failed, is in failing to take our everyday experience of time into account. So, I think that, you know, I want to be careful about trying about about going over people's heads. I think it was Einstein, who said that, if that happens is that one of the things that that's a sign of is that the person who is explaining doesn't understand their subject as well as they should.
Zack Jackson 04:25
So yeah, that's the, that's what sets like Jesus's teachings apart is that you can say a whole lot in a little bit because you really get it or Mr. Rogers. Yeah. So maybe you can help us to understand a little bit, you mentioned that we have an experience of time. I think that kind of goes without saying that the past is what you did. The present is what you're doing in the future is what you will do, and they're all connected causally. But that's about it. Right? You know, and that there's a static flow of time like a conveyor belt, almost Right, but that's not, that's not exactly how things panned out in the early 1900s.
Tim Maness 05:06
Yes, that's true. There are these these three modes of time, these three sort of general tenses, you might say there, if you get into the grammar, but you can come up with more that, that constitute our relationship with time. The, the philosopher, Immanuel Kant talked about PILOTs, one of the categories of our experience, you know, this thing that sort of gives shape to, to the way we experience the world. And, you know, we experienced that the past is accessed through through memory, that's the past is, is this set thing that we, that we, that we know, of, it's definite for us. To some extent, it's definite, but we forget things as well. But it's it's set, it has its own existence, and the future doesn't exist yet. It's some, it's the, the domain of, of sort of planning and also guesswork. It's, it's there to be defined, and the present is where those two things come together. But it's also more than that. It's, it's the, it's the way of, of the mode of times existence in which we can act, in which we make decisions, and, and do things. And it's those decisions, that that shape, the future. And all of those things are, are, are deeply tied in to our way of living in the world as human beings. Right, you know, that's all of those have a very sort of narrative kind of character to them. That it's like, it's like a story, right? That we talked about having a beginning and a middle and an ending. And even before Einstein, a lot of philosophers and scientists were kind of suspicious about that way of talking about time, precisely because it was so human. So, you know, the, the great philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who, you know, contributed so much to the philosophy of mathematics, among other things. Writing before Einstein said that, basically, the fact that this way of thinking about time has so much of the human in it has so much of our subjective, personal way of, of experiencing things into it, that, but there must be something wrong with it. Basically, that in order to be really scientific, where a scientific, you know, is considered to mean the same thing as rigorous. And, you know, and well thought out, then, a way of thinking also has to be objective, it can't rely on any particular point of view. And so Rafal, among others, thought it was better to imagine that that time, was I didn't really have this, this past present future character, that the differences among these three ways of, of experiencing time, were just an illusion, that are brought on by by some, some weird thing about human consciousness or another. And that, in reality, all events in time, exist in the same kind of way. In my work, and in the work of a lot of philosophers of time, we draw on the A category that got set up by this, this philosopher named James McTaggart, who wrote about sort of two ways that we have of talking about time, the A Series and the B series, like many philosophers, he was not really great at creative names. And so the A Series is, is it involves differences in past and present and future in that way that we talked about, imagines that, that the time flows, you might say that, that an event is, is in the future, and then it's in the present, and then it's in the past. And it has all of these different characteristics of past present and future as time goes on. And then on the other hand, there is the B series, and in the B Series events don't have the past, present and future relationships. All they have are the relationships with earlier and later on So for instance, if you can imagine looking at like a history textbook, and you see events on a timeline, where, you know, pen 66, the, the, the Norman invasion of England happens. And, you know, there's in, in this month of that year, this happens. And then a later month of the year, this happens and all of the events are sort of laid out next to each other on a line. All of those events sort of have the same kind of existence. They're, they're, they're sort of different modes of existence that used to see in the A series, the past, the present, and the future stuff. And in our daily lives, we use both of these all the time. Whenever you are planning out your schedule for the day, you are thinking about time in a B Series kind of way. You're saying, Well, alright, I'm gonna sit down to record this podcast at 9am. And then, you know, for my, you know, I should probably have lunch in there somewhere. So it's penciled in for noon, I've got this this other phone call that's scheduled at 330. And you're sort of laying these things out. That way, sort of, in kind of as though you're laying them out in space. And, and again, it's just, it's just an earlier later kind of relationship. But in order to, to take that schedule and translate it into something that you actually do, you also have to bring in the A series there comes a point where, you know, it's not enough just to say, you know, alright, I am starting this podcast at 9am, you are not able to actually do the things necessary to start the, you start the podcast, until unless you have the the impression that at some point 9am is now and and now is a concept that the B series does not have. There is there is no one moment that it picks out is having that special characteristic of noun, it's that moment where, you know, we are where we are acting in the present where things are present to us. You know, there's there's just earliness and lateness and, and so it takes that that intersection between the A Series and the B series in order to to make the the events that we schedule happen. So we have both a ways of picking the time and B ways of taking that time and we use them both all the time. McTaggart his question, or his way of framing the question is, which one of these two ways of thinking is the more fundamental one? Is it the case that time is is really like the B series that, you know, events all have the same kind of existence, and they're ordered by earlier and delayed earlier and later? And our sense of past, present and future is some weird kind of illusion that comes out of our brains? Or is it the case that time really has a past or present in the future, and the B series just comes out of our way of writing things down? And it turns out that, that McTaggart actually thought that neither of these was true, and that he thought that time was the time was just an illusion. But the use terminology sort of gave names to two of the major camps, the people who think that the past present future way of thinking about time is the more fundamental one tend to call themselves a theorist or talk or to talk about flowing time and the people who think that the B series of time the earlier and later there is no now, way of thinking about time is more fundamental They call themselves the B theorists. So, for instance, Bertrand Russell is is a good example of a a b theorist. And you have you know, even quite quite distinguished philosophers and and scientists people like like the, the eminent French, the French philosopher Ali Belkacem was a major proponent of the a theory. The the physicist Arthur Eddington was a major proponent of the a theory. So, this is this is already a hot topic of discussion coming into the 20th century, when Einstein is still a patent clerk and hasn't haven't made a name for himself yet. But then comes relativity as as as Zack has has already talked about, dear listeners and, and that throws a wrench in everything. thing. And it turns out that the assumption that was made in Newtonian physics and, frankly, has probably been made by just about everyone else ever. That, that everybody shares the same now. And that, you know, now is the same moment, you know, here on the East Coast of the United States, as it is in, you know, on the west coast that, you know, it might be the case that the time that we call, you know, 1030, on the east coast, is 630. On the west coast, we, you know, we assign it to different times on the clock, but we can agree that it's now, right, that, you know, you see this in like in like, you know, TV scheduling, for instance, you know, or at least you know, in the days before streaming, we used to we used to talk about TV scheduling this way, but you know, this thing is this, the show is going to come on at, you know, 730 Eastern 630 Central. That, you know, we assign the time when the show begins different moments on the clock, depending on the timezone, but we can agree that the time when the show starts is the same, even if people assign it to two different moments on the clock. So, so this assumption that, that there's the same now that exists here on the East Coast, and over there on the West Coast, and over on the planet Mars, and over in the Andromeda Galaxy, it is all one now, Einstein says, nope, nope, that's not true. That how we experience time, depends on where we are and how fast we're moving. And that people are going to disagree about how long things take. And about what things take place at the same time as each other, depending on how they're moving relative to the events that they're talking about. And that this sort of multisyllabic way of talking about that concept is the relativity of simultaneity. Simultaneous the fact of happening at the same time, simultaneously, the quality of happening at the same time. That's relative in in Einstein's terms, and, and the sort of classic example that that we have for that is, goes back to Einstein. It involves trains. And I think that the trains are going to come up a lot as an image has, as I talked about this. So you mentioned you've got a train that's that's moving past a station. And in the middle of one of the train cars, there is a flashbulb that will go off, let's say for an art project. And the flashbulb goes off in the middle of the train. And light starts coming out of the flashbulb and going towards the two ends of the train. You remember from the previous episode on relativity, that the speed of light is invariant, it's the same for all observers, we might say, for observers in all reference frames, for all points of view. And so a person who is sitting in the middle of the train next to the flashbulb, let's say it's the artist is going to, from that person's point of view, since the light bulb is in the middle of the train, light from the light bulb, is going to hit both ends of the car at the same time, light bulb is exactly in the middle, lightest traveling at the same speed. So it is going to take the same amount of time to hit both ends of the of the car, the front in the back. So from in that person's reference frame, the reference room with the artist on the train, the moment when the light hits the front of the car. And the moment when the light hits the back of the car are going to be simultaneous will happen at the same time. From the perspective of a person who is sitting on a platform as the train goes by, you know, presumably they're waiting for the local and this is the Express that's passing. And they're they're looking at this car wondering what on earth is going on with this flashbulb in this train car. From their perspective, the back of the car is is instead of moving toward this, this is the place where where the where the light was emitted, and the front of the car is moving away from it. So from the perspective of the person who is, you know, sitting at sitting on the platform with the train cars moving past, the light will hit the back of the train earlier than it hits the front of the train. So those two events are not simultaneous, one happens before the other. And the weird thing about relativity, or one of the many weird things about relativity is that it tells us that, that neither of these people is right, and neither of them is wrong. It's not the case that that motion is introducing some kind of distortion into things and that the person who was sitting still is right, because you can't say who's sitting still and who's in motion, all you can do is say that, you know, this is in motion with respect to this. So there's no matter of fact, about whether or not these two events happen at the same time, they happen at the same time in one reference frame, and they don't happen at the same time in in another reference frame. And that's all you can say, the the simultaneity of these two events is relative. So, if that's the case, then the idea of now becomes kind of complicated. You can't say that, you know, you can't say definitively I should say that, you know, a given set of events are all happening at the same time, a time that we can call now, some people moving at some speed with respect to those events are going to assign them all to the same. Now, some people are going to say that, you know, events, A and B are in the past of events C, and some people are going to divide things up differently altogether. So, past and present and future, from a point of view of relativity become a lot harder to divide up. And so, a lot of people, what they get out of this is the idea that this must mean that relativity is basically giving us a knockdown, scientific physical argument, that the are not just an argument that are proof that the beef theory, the the only earlier and later no past present, and future way of looking at time, is really the more fundamental one, that past and present and future are just things that human beings with their weird little brains are imposing on the the grand, impersonal scientific universe. How are we doing so far?
Zack Jackson 23:06
Ian Binns 23:07
I'm just listening. Because it still always blows my mind. All the time just blows my mind.
Zack Jackson 23:14
It's mind blowing. Well, anytime you say that, anytime you say that. You experience it this way. But the mathematics suggests that it's this other way. I mean, that in and of itself, you know, you've heard it said, But I say to you, right, you're blowing minds.
Tim Maness 23:29
Right? And, and, and that's, you know, that plays in with, with that, that way of thinking about science that Russell had, right? That, you know, here we have this this problem that philosophers were debating about, for centuries and centuries, and long come the physicists, and they solve it. Right? That, that, you know, it's the philosophy is, is about endless, fruitless debate. And science comes in and cuts the Gordian knot, and gives us, you know, the way things really are, and, you know, avoids all of this fog of mere language and gives us the truth in mathematics. And, you know, that's, that's something that philosopher after philosopher in the 20th century, brings out of this. And one of the things that they that they do, not universally, but really kind of a lot is that they, they go on from saying, mathematics is, you know, is reliable in a way that subjectivity and language aren't to saying that basically, the human experience of personhood is an illusion of of a similar kind. That, that all of all of our the subjectivities of our experience What what is sometimes called qualia, the hardness of our perceptions, you might see people talk about the redness of a rose, as opposed to the knowledge that you know, light is being reflected off of the rose itself in such a, such a wavelength, you know, or the, the, the emotional side of, of hearing music, as opposed to just being able to describe it in terms of, you know, frequency and amplitude, that all of that stuff is, you know, is is illusion. And that the, the math of those experiences is all that's really real. So, that has a lot of implications for religion, right? Because, so much of you know, of, of our religious experience is personal. In this way. One of my my favorite philosopher theologians, the, the Dane with the rather difficult to pronounce, name of Sir and Kierkegaard, you know, has has this, this whole book, where he talks about how the sort of basis of, of religious experience is this thing that happens inside of you that you can never fully communicate to someone else. And that all of our attempts to talk about religion are attempts that fail, more or less, to take this inexpressible thing, and put it out where other people can see it. And, you know, and and you hear you have this, this, this emerging philosophical viewpoint that, that claims to have, you know, to perceive basically scientific proof for itself, that that's just nonsense, that that nothing that's inexpressible in mathematics can even really exist, that anything else is a delusion. And even if you don't follow things quite that far, even if you don't take from this, the, that, you know, the science is really showing that human subjectivity is an illusion. Taking this, this sort of be theory view of time, poses a lot of problems for religion by itself. So if the B theory is true, time looks a lot like space. And all, you know, all the parts of space, all spots in space exists sort of alongside each other. And in the same way. Here's where here's where I bring in another one of my training analogies, that lots of train, what's the train analogies train?
Zack Jackson 27:55
Well, they go in straight lines. So it's very convenient.
Tim Maness 27:57
Most of the time, you know, if you're, if you're, if you're, if you're in the loop in Chicago, all bets are off for a lot of reasons. But so but but imagine that I'm going to train this traveling in a reasonably straight line, I'm on the Amtrak going up the East Coast, right? And imagine that my train is temporarily stopped in Philadelphia. And you know, maybe I'm going to get off at the station and grab a cheese steak and then get on before I move on north. So when I'm there on the train in Philadelphia, right. Washington DC still exists, even though I've left it, right. It's not present to me now. But it's still there. And New York and Boston, even though I haven't gotten there yet, exist, they're real. There are things going on there that are that are happening, even though I don't perceive them, they are real. So the, in this be theoretic way of looking at time now is like Philadelphia, and the pastor's like, DC. And the future is like New York and Boston. The past is still there, even though that's not where I am now. And the the future is out there that exists, like York and Boston do even though I'm not there now. And the present doesn't have anything really special about it. It's just where I happen to find myself at a particular moment. Right. So if that's the case, if that really is the best description of how time is and a lot of the stories that we tell, that involve time, which is to say all stories that we tell become, well, they become sort of different. So, in, in, in religion, right, we have a lot of stories about, say about people changing their lives. Right? Where, you know, in, in, in the Bible, God says to God says to people, you know, turn your lives around. And then as a result of your turning your life around, this will happen to you. Or if you don't turn your life around, this won't happen to you. Yes. So that sort of way of thinking about about the stories of people's lives depends on a particular way of talking about time, right? The the events, after you make that that critical decision to turn your life around or not to, you know, have some conversion or some repentance or some whatever else, that depends on an idea that the future doesn't exist yet, but it's there to be shaped by your decisions. And so it makes sense to talk about the events that happen after that, that decision as being in some way more important than the events that happen before. Right? That what happens later, can change the meaning of what happened earlier, can in some limited way, maybe make up for what happened earlier, can be more relevant than what happened earlier. This, this is sounding plausible, based on on, you know, the way that you think about time and, you know, regular everyday way
Zack Jackson 31:44
I hear kind of, at least in the scriptural analogy, there's kind of two stories that popped to my mind, I think of that whole, that whole paradigm is so important for the province, right? They they come before the people and they say, here's what you've done. Here's what you need to change, or else, this is what will happen, right? That's sort of the formula of every one of the problems, they're giving you a chance to repent, to change to move. So your future is not totally decided yet. The future is uncertain, it's being written now. And then the other story I think of is that of Moses and Pharaoh, where God tells Moses, go to Pharaoh say, Let my people go. And he goes to Pharaoh and says, Let my people go. And then God hardens Pharaoh's heart, because God has an ending in mind already, and is going to, like the future is unchangeable. In that story, there was always going to be plagues always going to be an exodus always going to be that. And God is still telling Moses to do this thing now, despite the fact that it's not going to change anything, because God is going to intervene, because the future is fixed. All right. And of those two stories, people generally tend to accept the prophetic version a lot easier than the the future is already fixed. And God is behind the scenes, you know, making this a deterministic situation, right? Because then they think, why do I even bother? Yeah, what's the point of any of this if the future is already if the future is already real? And whatever, you know, I should just sit back and do nothing. Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Maness 33:23
And which is not to say that there haven't been some theologians who have tried to embrace that, that sort of the future is set way of looking at things, right. Where you have people who are in favor of have a strong view of looking what gets hold predestination, where, where God has already set out your entire future for you, where all of the events of your life exists, like, like, you know, like, like, all the events in a book, right, where everything has already happened, even before you've in a circumstance, even before you've read it, it's just a matter of, you know, going through the pages, until you get to the the ending that was already there. And people like, you know, like John Calvin, in the in the Christian tradition, tend to have a strong view of predestination. That's, that is a really common view in, in Muslim theology. It's, you get a lot of Muslim thinkers who have that that particular strong view that God has planned out all of history. It's very uncommon in Judaism, you will find very few Jewish thinkers who wouldn't rather go with that sort of open future. There's there there's very little Jewish support for the idea of predestination. So yeah, you have you have, you can find some theologians who are going to be on either side of this debate. But on the whole, you're right people do like to they do like to opt for the idea of the open future because it makes our choices more meaningful. Right? It means that our choices are made, or at least, are potentially made by us. They aren't sort of written out ahead of time for us by God. And that means, for instance, that, that if we're making our own choices, that that that has implications for God's responsibility for evil in the world. If God has already made everybody's choices for everybody beforehand, then that means that God is responsible for all of the evil that people do. That God decided already decided, every time somebody was going to commit a murder. God made that happen, rather than than the person choosing to commit that murder against God's will.
Zack Jackson 35:57
Yeah, it's holding a marionette responsible for its puppeteers act. Right. Exactly.
Ian Binns 36:03
The idea of fate, right? No.
Tim Maness 36:05
Yeah. Yeah, sure. Yeah. Right. Yeah, that's that's our
Ian Binns 36:09
that's already written or something like that. Is that kind of the same?
Tim Maness 36:13
thing? I think that's that's, that's a great one syllable way of putting it this is this is exactly fate. Right, in the way that that many cultures have had had it that the way you sometimes see like Greek and Roman ways of talking about the world, where everybody has their fate. It's laid out, you if you try to avoid it, it will just you'll just end up coming at it in a way that you didn't expect.
Zack Jackson 36:38
Yeah, that's all edifice. Yeah, there. Yeah.
Tim Maness 36:43
And that's, you know, it's not to say that that's, that that's a way of looking at God, that doesn't make sense, in a sort of abstract kind of way. But it's one that poses a lot of problems, especially for an Abrahamic view of God, where we want to talk about God as as loving, and as good. And in, it causes a lot of problems for the way we want to talk about the end of time. Right? We have this idea that at the end of time, God will will will wipe will wipe away every tear from people's eyes will make things okay. And that God will, to some extent treat people based on the choices that they've made during their lives. And if God has decided everybody's choices for them all along the line, then that makes a lot less sense. If people's, you know, if the will, the changes that people make in their lives. If the events that happen after those changes always exist, and the events that happen before those changes always exist, and they exist in the same way, then it doesn't seem like there's no particular reason to treat the events afterward as being more important than the events that happened before. Right? It's it's not as though if you're looking at a map of the US, right? But you would say, all right, everything that happens east of the Mississippi cancels out everything that happens west of the Mississippi, you know, that would be ridiculous. And if, if all events are laid out in time, the way, you know, places are laid out in space, then it seems ridiculous in the same way to talk about events, later, canceling out events that happened earlier. So there's, there's there's no particular reason for God to assign people to treat people differently based on on changes that they make. There's no sort of final victory of good over evil, because the evil always exists, it doesn't pass away. It's always there. In the same way that the good that God eventually brings him to be is always there. So even if you're if you even if you're not following these along these these be theorist philosophers in saying that, you know, the human personality doesn't really exist. The B theory causes all kinds of problems for for Abrahamic theology, and the the predestination list of theologians who would be happy to go along with the B theory. They don't have a lot of responses beyond Well, it's a mystery. You know, God see thing, God sees things differently. And it's not necessarily going to make sense to us. And that's something that we as theologians have to say a lot of the time because, you know, part of the way that we think about God is that yeah, God is different from us. And God does see things differently. But when you basically have to take that same explanation and apply it to literally everything in the way that we talk about God interacting with human beings, then speaking for myself, I don't find it very satisfying. It feels to me like, though it does make sense to say that there are there are things about God that we're not going to understand that we should, at a minimum, have some things that we can understand about the way God interacts with us in our own lives. If anything should be comprehensible to us, it seems like it should be that we should be able to understand the impact of what we do.
Zack Jackson 40:38
Yeah, that we can't necessarily understand the nature the full nature of a being that exists outside of our experience our universe, but we should be able to at least understand our experience of that. Right.
Tim Maness 40:57
Right. And especially if we're if retail was
Ian Binns 41:01
gonna, yeah, please go ahead. I was gonna ask about in, you just alluded to it that, Zach, that, because again, it's still this is still cooking my brain here a little bit, but so the idea that God would exist outside of our understanding of time, right, like, even based on all this stuff that you're talking about here, Tim? Um, is that okay, in a theological way or not? Okay, I'm not permission, but what are your thoughts on approaching it that
Tim Maness 41:31
way? Well, yeah, I mean, that's, that's, that's another big problem, that, that, that sort of exists at right angles to this one, right, you can have sort of different positions on that. And, and imagine it as impacting the way we think about time in different ways. Right? So people usually want to talk about God as knowing some things that exist in the future, right? Prophecy is, is assuming to some degree that God knows some things before they happen? And how are we going to reconcile that with the way that we think about time? Well, people have have proposed different things. You know, if the B theorists are right, and all events already exist, and that becomes very simple to explain, you know, God knows things. God knows everything that happens, because God sort of created it all. At you know, as it were, at the same moment, you know, God brought all that into existence together. With the great theologian, Augustine, the Christian theologian, Augustine, he, drawing on some, some sort of Greco Jewish ways of thinking about time, proposes that the time is this created thing. That, that, that there is no time, until God creates the universe. And when God creates the universe, you know, as God is saying, what it'd be like, then then time comes into being with things as as, as they start. And that would mean for Augustine, for instance, that God is is outside of time, in the same way that we say that God is outside of space. Right, that God doesn't you know, that God isn't located in space, you know, there's, there's not some place that you can go to the specialty that you've been, you know, getting the spaceship and travel to apply. And that's where God is, you know, this is one of the reasons why Star Trek five is a bad movie. And I'm wondering if
Ian Binns 43:31
you're gonna do that.
Tim Maness 43:34
And in the same way, there's, there's no particular moment where we're God is in time. And, and so, if God is outside of time, in that way, then then you could ask, you know, what is God's relationship to time like, there's this, this, this other Christian thinker on amblyseius, who has a way of thinking about time that has some subtle differences from Augustine, that we may or may not end up getting into he has this sort of famous image of God as it's the God's way of looking at time as is like a person in a watch tower looking down the road, right, that the person is not on the road, and what they see all events on the road from where they sit. So So God is sort of looking at time from outside and seeing it that way. And some people argue that God's knowledge of future events doesn't determine future events because God isn't really knowing them before they happen in a strict sense, because God isn't in the scheme of before and after.
Zack Jackson 44:53
That sounds like the sorts of ways that they handle pre cognition in dune Is that the he doesn't actually see what will happen. He sees what they describe as a series of threads that all come out and branch off of each other of possible probable futures based on where things are. And so when he has visions, they're things that don't necessarily happen, but are possible happenings and then is then current actions can then determine whether or not those potential futures happen. Yeah,
Tim Maness 45:30
you are it's also talked about that way in what is arguably the first time travel story. Christmas Carol. Where were we?
Zack Jackson 45:43
Oh, man, yeah, I hadn't thought about the Christmas Carol is as a time travel,
Tim Maness 45:48
we're screwed says to to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come Are these the shadows of things that will be your those might have been things that might be only. And, and there's a moment there are other ways of looking at at time in which God's relationship to time is like that, in which God is in time with us. And that the future doesn't exist for God either. And that, that God has, maybe you might say that God knows, to some extent what might happen, because God knows us really well. In the same way that that, you know, you might say, if your best friend, or if some close family member, well, if you put this person in this situation, I don't know for certain what they would do. But I bet they do this. That if you have really good knowledge of someone, you have an idea of how they would react in a given situation. And so maybe God's knowledge of the future is like that, where God has perfect knowledge of all of the physical conditions, and God has really good knowledge of our personalities. So God can say with a high probability, yeah, this is what's likely to happen. But it's up to you.
Zack Jackson 47:06
When I was in seminary, I was a, I was in an arrogant little seminary, all army was all the things. And I had a professor who accused me of being more influenced by Greek philosophy than by the, you know, Christian theology, and which is fighting back against that
Tim Maness 47:31
theologians have been accusing each other of since the first century.
Zack Jackson 47:36
Sure, because it's true. Because what I was talking about with the the omnis of God, that God is omnipotent, so all powerful, omniscient, so all knowing omnipresent, so all prayer, all places, omnibenevolent, all loving these ideas of the omnis, which don't actually appear in Scripture, but that so very color, the way we think about God, and so what I was talking about what God being all knowing, so God knowing all of the things, and he challenged that and he said you where do you find that? And honestly, my basis of it was just the things that I was taught in Sunday school, that God these are the foundational characteristics of God, but not necessarily in Scripture other than in like the Psalms, which will say, you know, God, you've searched me, you know, me high and low, all those things. But he said, What if we follow instead, the line of thinking from Philippians? Two, and what we talked about kenosis, the emptying of God, and that instead of saying that God knows everything, what if you were to say that God knows what God chooses to know, that God is able to know everything, but in a way of as a way of interacting with finite beings, chooses instead to not know everything in order to interact with humanity. And so there is a kind of self emptying in order to enter into our world which, you know, if you imagine a three dimensional object, trying to interact in a two dimensional world, that three dimensional object would have to lose some of its three dimensional pneus and be emptied of its depth in order to interact with one of those.
Tim Maness 49:21
Edwin Abbott's great book Flatland.
Zack Jackson 49:24
Right, which ended up being I mean, that book was about economics, but ended up being a great illustration for all kinds of they also horribly
Tim Maness 49:32
sexist, I should I should point that out. So be warned. If you go in if you go in there, there's some some really awful stuff about the female.
Zack Jackson 49:43
Yeah, it's just a good illustration. But that's about
Tim Maness 49:46
I want to be careful. I call it a great book. And I want to be careful about that because there are ways we did is a super bad book.
Zack Jackson 49:55
That's kind of where where process theology comes up, that God is intimately involved. In the process of the unfolding of time that God has emptied God's self. And that's how God interacts in time and space is by leaving, the the timelessness and the unchanging pneus of the whatever imagined other dimensions and instead becoming, made flesh in in this existence. And that sounds really nice. Until I started learning about relativistic time and that there is no privileged present moment. And that so then in what moment, is God present in the now? At that point? Yeah, there is an acrobat now, actually, that does God exist in a black hole? Where the where time flows, so drastically different? does? Does God exist on the photons? Does God exist in the now of, you know, objects moving near the speed of light? It all kind of fell apart. And then yeah, wonderful narrative of God, growing and changing and loving and weeping with the death of the planet, all of that kind of fell apart, too. And I was sad to lose my beautiful theology,
Tim Maness 51:07
you might be interested to know that there are philosophers and theologians out there who are struggling mightily to take that beautiful theology and make it compatible with relativity.
Zack Jackson 51:22
Your being you being one of them?
Tim Maness 51:24
Well, yeah, I mean, in my dissertation, I talked about a couple of different ways that people try to, to reconcile that, that theology was depends so much on pulling time with relativity. And that idea of God is in time with us, is one of the ones that I look at. It's, that's, that's a way of looking at things that is being defended by by, for instance, William Lane, Craig, and John Lucas. I think, you know, I think that the way that they go about or I should say, specifically, the way that Craig goes about, trying to make this work, and relativity leaves some, some really big unanswered questions. So I think it's, it's maybe the less satisfying, of, of the two. But when I was finishing the dissertation, but before I had time to really do the research, and, and incorporate this, I was seeing some stuff about other physical ways of looking at time, that made me think, maybe, if I were to sit down and, and look at this in a future project, there might be more to be said, for, for that, that sort of God in time, way of of dealing with relativity. So that that may be a future project. And I should also say that, that specifically that idea of, of God not knowing the future, because it's not, you know, is is more characteristic of Lucas's way of looking at things than Craig's, because I think Craig takes a lot of the advantages of that way of thinking and first, not the window, again, by insisting that God has to know everything that happens in detail. Um,
Ian Binns 53:24
well, so, you know, I know we are slowly getting, you're starting to run out of time. I'm curious, how has the all this work that you've done the dissertation work, you just talked about, you know, future ideas, future things, you're curious about? How, if at all, has it impacted or influenced your personal theological journey?
Tim Maness 53:48
Well, personally is exactly the word for it. So, that, that brings me I guess, to the other way of trying to reconcile flowing time with relativity, that I think is the more satisfying one which comes out of the work that the the theologian Barbara John Russell, who is working at the the graduate theological Union are in Berkeley, the director of the Center for theology of the natural sciences, is instantly been a great friend tonight, a great friend to me. The way that that he tries to reconcile this is to say that a lot of the problems that that relativity causes here or that we we think of relativity as causing come from taking the idea of a now and trying to extend it in space. Right, to say that there should be a single now that can encompass, you know, where I am here and where you are there and where somebody else is on Mars and we're aliens are the Andromeda galaxy right? whereas one of the things that relativity should tell us is that the idea of now is inseparable from the idea of here. The what you have is not so much a universal now that we meet, you can fall about it, but here now, so I have one particular now. And, you know, you in in North Carolina, have a slightly different one, and use Zack in eastern pa have a slightly different one. And, you know, the farther you are away, but the more different your now is. And that the philosophers who want to say that, you know that everything breaks down, because you can't fundamentally assign things to a past and present and future, the mistake that they're making is trying to take different nouns and combine them into one to say that what is real for me, is real T is real to you. Because we exist in this, you know, that because we can interact with each other. You know, for instance, if I'm on the phone with one of you, right, and you're looking out your window, and you're seeing the squirrels doing something weird out there, the way they do that, even if even if you're not talking to me about the squirrels that those squirrels, and what they're doing is real to me on the other end of the phone. You know, that's the way we normally think about things happening, right? That what's real to you where you are, is real to me where I am, even if I don't know anything about it. And what Russell and a few others is saying is that maybe this is another one of those ideas that relativity should force us to abandon. Maybe what we should be thinking about is, rather than then one, universal now that encompasses everyone, maybe there are a myriad of individual here now that go with each particular observer, in each particular reference frame, whatever it might be, and they don't line up with each other, but maybe they don't have to. Maybe, because, you know, the thing is that all you disagree, we can disagree about what happens at the same time, or in some cases about the order that events take place. But we will never disagree about the causality of events. Right. That's that's one of the things that the big the big caveat to this story about, we tell about how relativity changes everything up is that relative even in relativity, even with all of these shenanigans about time, relativity never mixes up the order of events that are causally related to each other, you can always agree, no matter what reference frame you're in, that the cause happens before the effect. So in the end, we have different perspectives, but they kind of come out in the wash. And even though you might know something that I would consider repeated, so you might know something now that I would consider the time that you would call now that I was considered to be in the future. One of the things about relativity is that you can't get that information to me, before it would come to me anyway. You can't get me you can't transmit a signal to me at the speed of light in such a way that I find out about that event with advanced knowledge. So maybe what we should do, in Russell's point of view is rather than saying that, that God exists in a single universal now that defines what now really means, the way Craig would have done it to say that God is with us, each of our individual mouths. And that that's God's way of, of perceiving the universe is by looking at it through the eyes, so to speak, more or less metaphorically of everything in the universe, that that rather than, than sort of looking down at what's happening on the stage of creation from the Royal box, so to speak, that God is seeing what happens through the eyes of each of the actors. And for that matter, potentially through the through the eyes of all the props and all the pieces of scenery and if Go to a couple of theologians, or a number of theologians who get called the Boston personalist. Boston because they worked at Boston University. We find that they have, even outside the framework of relativity already come up with a way of thinking about God's interaction with the creation. It looks a lot like this. One of them incidentally, Edgar Brightman was Dr. Martin Luther King's PhD advisor. So when he was becoming Dr. King, he was working with Edgar Brightman. So I think these two things kind of fit together in a really productive, generative way. The idea that, rather than personhood, being this distortion of a timeless, pure mathematical, non linguistic reality, maybe personhood, is the core of what is maybe our individual, different irreconcilable ways of looking at the world is a really important feature of how the world is. And that because God, who created the universe who brought the universe into existence is a person. Not exactly in the same way that we are, because God is infinite, and has all sorts of characteristics that as we talked about, we can't know about or even talk about very well. But But God's personhood is in some way analogous to ours. And so that personhood becomes a really important thing for us to keep in mind as we talk about existence. And that if we can't translate that personhood into mathematics, then that's okay. Because mathematics doesn't have to be the only tool that we use to describe how things are.
Zack Jackson 1:01:57
Yeah, your explanation reminds me a lot of the way that Teresa of Avila saw the way that God interacts with people. Or she said, Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on Earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world, yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, yours are the body. Christ has no body now on Earth, but you're right.
Tim Maness 1:02:24
And even I think this works beautifully. Well, even talking about Christ's incarnation, you know, during those 30 Some years in, in Judea, right? That, that when God became incarnate speaking, he was a Christian, that it was as a particular human being, in a particular time and place, that God was this one guy with a very, who only walked around a very small area of the earth. Right, that God did all that God had to do in that incarnation, even with this perspective, that was very circumscribed. Very short, in terms of of time, and very localized in terms of space. And, and that's okay, that's, that's just how things are.
Zack Jackson 1:03:16
Tim, as, as always, Tim, you've given me things to think about. You've given me scientific things to reread, as well as new perspectives on my own personal faith and theology to reconsider. So thank you again, for that. Any idea when this will all be turned into a book that everyone can read?
Tim Maness 1:03:40
The ways that publishers are mysterious to us mere mortals?
Ian Binns 1:03:45
Yes, this is true.
Tim Maness 1:03:47
And so one of the things that they unfortunately don't necessarily teach you in grad school is hard to put together a book proposal. So that's something that I'm having to learn on my own. But hopefully, it shouldn't be too long. You know, though, of course as as, as CS Lewis has gotten the former bass line saying I call all time soon.
Ian Binns 1:04:15
definitely agree with it. Yeah.
Zack Jackson 1:04:18
Yeah, with a quote from Aslan.
Tim Maness 1:04:20
Yeah. So it's been such a joy to to be a guest on the podcast and just to talk to you two guys, you're so great. And thanks.
Zack Jackson 1:04:29
We'll have to have you back on again sometime soon to
Tim Maness 1:04:32
say the word say the word and I am there and also then
Zack Jackson 1:04:36
alright at yes then and there at the same time. Yes, it also not and oh wibbly wobbly timey. Why me? Yep. God bless you all.