It would be a truism to say that the world is full of mysteries and that many things are beyond our understanding. But surely the science of Cosmology must be for many people the most mysterious of all. For everyone except a tiny minority of which I am not a member , one of most incomprehensible cosmological concepts is that of space-time. It is, however, at the heart of the theories of relativity, formulated a century ago by Albert Einstein, which are at the heart of reality. Have Einstein’s theses been corrected or at least nuanced by Stephen Hawking ? And what of String Theory (as if I knew what that was about) ?
Most of us do not have a clue about the relationship between space and time. When scientists talk about “time dilation” and how time slows down at higher speeds (evidenced, for example, in the slowing of atomic clocks in space shuttles, relative to Earth’s inertial clocks), and how “the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the object’s velocity relative to the observer and also on the strength of gravitational field which can slow the passage of time” – I just take their word for it.
But I do wonder, in this context, about two things. The first is how incredibly recent all these discoveries, insights and new data are. My Dad was a boy when the world first heard about the integration of the fourth dimension, time, into the other three. Up till the beginning of the last century we had no idea about the space-time continuum, though the question of the nature of time had intrigued thinkers, including even Saint Augustine, for ages. Until very recent centuries we were living in the Dark Ages. Smartphones and video-games and e-mail and microwave ovens we take for granted. My Dad lived and died without knowing any of them.
The second reaction I have concerns – predictably – how “God” fits into this new context. What happens not just to the biblical myth of the creation story but to non-atheists’ contemporary views of God’s rôle in integrated space-time ? I have a feeling that though I won’t live to see it, science before long (how long ? too long !) will make religion irrelevant. It’s just a question of time. Watch this space.
DELENDA RELIGIO (quamprimum : as fast as possible)