Take triangles. Most of us are tempted by the idea that there is some perfect realm where triangles in their formalwear are eking out an eternal existence being flawless and sitting beyond the ravages of time and circumstance.
Plato laid this out nicely with his sense that there was a world of perfect forms or ideas that stamped the shape of things that got instantiated in this world as particulars. The form of the ‘good’ or maybe ‘beauty’ stood as the form of the forms. This got taken as God. Existing up there (I’m pointing up) as the one pure being. Like the triangles, only rather than perfect sides, angles and such, he held all perfections including perfect being—sort of a really advanced trianglely sort of thing only better. And beyond time, where time is some ‘river’ that flows forward but which can be circumvented by this perfect being and who is its source rather than something embedded in it. Time is down here. With us. Not with him—the God of triangles. Oh and these perfect ideal formal triangles escape time too, just like all the Platonic forms.
This timelessness sort of being is found in everything from our science to religion. Time is an illusion. In certain denominations of modern physics the claim is that the direction of time’s arrow is sort of arbitrary, the laws of nature hold backwards and forwards depending on which direction you are facing. This makes stuff like freewill, an indeterminate world, an open universe and such a hard sale. Hence modern anxieties of those tackling the evangelical atheists on their own turf. Yeah, since determinism seems to hold in some local instances we measured a time or two it must hold everywhere and for all time! Wow. No wonder we abandoned absolutes earlier in this series. If you want to keep them, I have some oceanfront property here in Utah I’d like to sell.
Evolutionary biologists have always held that things are different depending on the scales at which they work. Determinism and fixed laws of nature have always seemed a little harder to hold onto than it does in physics. This is changing and its worth looking at some attempts by physicists who are coming around to seeing this deterministic, law-like crap doesn’t wear well in the jungle of reality. This is why the idea that times arrow can go backwards is wrong. We don’t live in that kind of universe.
I have a paper coming out in Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science soon (It’s accepted but not scheduled so it could be anytime in the next year). The gist of it is that novelty is real, the universe is open and therefore not only is where it is heading unknown, not because a lack in our knowledge, but because novelty might appear and change the entire game being played. Why are people taking this seriously? A recent book, was just released written by a physicist that lays out the case in a nice way and I’d like to quote from it a bit because he makes a nice case for what I’m arguing for. And this has big implications for the way we read the scriptures and for Mormon Theology.
The book which came out last month is called, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin. He contrasts the old style of thinking (which he calls thinking outside of time) with the new (thinking inside time) like this:
The contrast between thinking in time and outside time is apparent in many arenas of human thought and action. We are thinking outside time when, faced with a technological or social problem, we assume that the possible approaches are already determined, as a set of absolute, pre-existing categories. Anyone who thinks that the correct theory of economics or politics was written down in the century before last is thinking outside time. When we instead see the aim of politics as the invention of novel solutions to novel problems that arise as society evolves, we are thinking in time. We’re also thinking in time when we understand that progress in technology, society, and science consists in inventing genuinely new ideas, strategies, and forms of social organization— and trust our ability to do so.
Smolin, Lee (2013-04-23). Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Kindle Locations 101-107). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.”
The motivation for this kind of thinking draws explicitly on evolutionary biology:
. . . evolutionary biology is the prototype for thinking in time, because at its heart is the realization that natural processes developing in time can lead to the creation of genuinely novel structures. Even novel laws can emerge, when the structures to which they apply come into existence. The principles of sexual selection, for example, could not have come to exist before there were sexes. Evolutionary dynamics has no need of vast abstract spaces, like all the possible viable animals, DNA sequences, sets of proteins, or biological laws. Better, as the theoretical biologist Stuart A. Kauffman proposes, to think of evolutionary dynamics as the exploration in time by the biosphere of what can happen next: the “adjacent possible.” The same goes for the evolution of technologies, economies, and societies.
Smolin, Lee (2013-04-23). Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Kindle Locations 114-120). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition. ” (Italics mine)
If this view is right the timeless Platonic God that we inherited from classic Western thought is wrong and the God that Joseph Smith revealed as a person, situated, embodied (read has having a biology of some sort), is the a God in an open universe. This implies that there are some aspects of the universe that might be unpredictable. Smolin again:
On a personal level, to think in time is to accept the uncertainty of life as the necessary price of being alive. To rebel against the precariousness of life, to reject uncertainty, to adopt a zero tolerance to risk, to imagine that life can be organized to completely eliminate danger, is to think outside time. To be human is to live suspended between danger and opportunity. We try our best to thrive in an uncertain world, to take care of whom and what we love and now and then enjoy ourselves in the process. We make plans, but we can never anticipate fully either the dangers or the opportunities ahead.
Smolin, Lee (2013-04-23). Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Kindle Locations 123-127). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
What if this applies to God too? What if we don’t have the God of the philosophers, but instead we have an exalted being who faces suffering, who weeps, who has to make plans to face the new contingencies that living in an open universe necessitates? As Smolin says:
Novelty is real. We can create, with our imagination, outcomes not computable from knowledge of the present. This is why it matters for each of us whether time is real or not: The answer can change how we view our situation as seekers of happiness and meaning in a largely unknown universe.
Smolin, Lee (2013-04-23). Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Kindle Locations 138-140). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.”
Where does this leave us in regards to evolution and the Fall? I think it leaves us with a sense that the universe is much more amazing and exciting than we’ve ever thought! It means that not only things, but laws themselves can evolve. It means that it might be possible to “take from these materials” and make something novel, new, and original. Universes can be opened, not just stamped out according to factory specs. I find this exciting.
In the final installment we’ll turn off all safety protocols and fly the spaceship into the heart of a nebula, just for kicks.