What are the Implications of the Block Universe for Atheism? In Other Words, If We Live in a Block Universe, Wouldn’t That Make Our Universe the Ultimate Flash-Assembled 747?

One thing that atheism seems to need is time for the simplest elements of existence at the Big Bang to evolve into all that we see around us. But here’s a quote from the physicist Paul Davies on the block universe:

“Physicists prefer to think of time as laid out in its entirety – a timescape, analogous to a landscape – with all past and future events located there together . . . Completely absent from this description of nature is anything that singles out a privileged special moment as the present or any process that would systematically turn future events into the present, then past, events. In short, the time of the physicist does not pass or flow.”

In other words, Davies seems to be saying that our “block universe” is all already here right now, and is static (past, present, and future). Another way I’ve heard the block universe discussed is as a time-space landscape where every discreet and logically possible quantum moment is both “somewhere” and “somewhen.” These other past and future moments are as present and existent as this very moment, but are not experienced by our individual consciousnesses because we just happen to inhabit this particular and very different somewhere/somewhen place in the grid.

In short, all of our block universe’s “time moments” are as present and real as Sydney, Los Angeles, and Calcutta are present and real. We just are not in a position in space/time to see and experience more than a tiny fraction of them.

But this all raises a HUGE question: How can such an elaborate thing just “be there” from the very beginning? In other words, isn’t a block universe the ultimate improbability—a grand, flash-assembled 747?

I realize that God doesn’t necessarily help, for who made the God who flashed into existence the block universe? But if time does not exist, and if it is only an illusion, then that must mean that everything in some sense just “popped” into existence all at once and has been “fully formed” and is now herewith present for all of eternity, doesn’t it?

I’m not a physicist, so maybe I’m grossly misunderstanding the implications of the “block universe.” Perhaps somebody out there can direct me to a good book or link on this issue to set me straight. But below is physicist Julian Barbour on his version of the “block universe.” It seems like he’s suggesting that everything—past, present, and future—is just here right now, and has always been here. But then I ask again: Where did all these frozen “Platonic” time-form moments of the block universe come from (if they didn’t evolve)?

Paul Davies quote source: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/scisoc/time/chennotes.html

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to What are the Implications of the Block Universe for Atheism? In Other Words, If We Live in a Block Universe, Wouldn’t That Make Our Universe the Ultimate Flash-Assembled 747?

  1. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    I also think the nature of time is fascinating. I know the majority view among physicists is the “b-theory” that you’ve described (that there is no privileged “now”). I will say that my impression is that, unlike those paradigms that seem to enjoy virtually universal support among scientists (things like evolution or the out-of-africa theory), I think that the b-theory of time is less certain. That is, I think there is room for reasonable disagreement. I say this because I am sympathetic to the a-theory, not that I have any expertise whatsoever.

    I think that your question above obtains on both the b-theory and the a-theory (if time flows in a more “realist” fashion, there was still a seemingly inexplicable beginning at the big bang). But you raise an interesting point about the b-theory that I had never considered. Do you know of anyone who has written anything along these lines (that the b-theory makes it harder for materialists to account for a blocked universe)?

    Depending on how widely you’ve read, you might find this short video series too introductory, but I found it interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9WdE7Ucc_Q&feature=PlayList&p=D57C1CCD33CC6A14&index=0&playnext=1

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Nope. That problem for materialism came right out of my noodle—I haven’t read anyone who has dwelled on it in that way. The fact that it occurred to me, but I’ve not seen it dwelt upon elsewhere, makes me highly suspicious that I’m misunderstanding something. I’m hoping somebody with a physics background will stumble on my post and suggest a link (one way or the other).

    I’ll take a look at your link also. Thanks for that.

    —Santi

  3. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Whatever else materialism/naturalism requires, it seems to me that it needs time for the playing out of contingencies and the accidental “discovery” of algorithms that increase complexity and lead, ultimately, to the beginnings of natural selection etc.

    But if time is an illusion, then that seems to mean that somehow dinosaurs and Shakespeare just popped into existence with the Big Bang, doesn’t it?

    I mean, how do you get from the Big Bang to dinosaurs to Shakespeare to Jared—to Jared’s great, great grandkids—in an instant, immediately all present and “accounted for”? How could this be a “mere” function of quantum probability playing itself out? It sounds so bizaare. It certainly sounds like a determinist Calvinist universe flung from the vast mind of God to me (if the block universe is true).

    And I hate Calvinism. I don’t say that with any pleasure. I want evolution, freedom, and time. Give me that old time Sartrean-Newtonian-Darwinian religion with a simple flow of time (and lots of it to make complex things like brains)—and being preceeding essence! Yeah!

    —Santi

  4. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    That documentary was very good. I posted it. Do you know the title, or what series it is a part of?

    —Santi

  5. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    That is taken from a telecourse series called “the examined life” which is part of a series of great little, short documentaries (20 or so) made for colleges to use in intro to philosophy classes–goes with M. Velasquez’s Philosophy textbook. If you are interested in viewing more, email me. If you do email me (totally your call), I have some other media stuff I can share with you.

    Well, we definitely agree on Calvinism and determinism. I’m fine with Sartre and Darwin, but if we are picking teammates, I’ll take Newton and John Wesley any day!

    Oh. You may already be well-read beyond this suggestion, but there is a decent “Introducing Time” book by Craig Callender–those Icon/Totem graphic books, I think you turned me on to those if I remember correctly. Even the comic book version of time is extremely confusing, however.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    You caught me up short on the “Introducing” series book on time. I’ve literally got a shelf long mini-library of those books. I thought I nearly have them all—but not that one. Way back at the time of the dinosaurs (when I was in school), a political science teacher that I had as a freshman in college assigned “Marx for Beginners” by Ruis. It was the first in the series—and really got those books started. I kept it, and still have it, and have tried to keep up with the new ones as they’ve come out. Over the last 3 or 4 years, though, I’ve lost track of the new titles, I guess. Paul Davies has a book on time that I haven’t read. That one is probably good too.

    I’ll see if I can find more of those mini-philosophy videos online before I bug you for further direction on that.

    If I was the one who first suggested those “Intro” books to you, I’m proud of that. I think that they are very cool, and very British in sensibility.

    —Santi

  7. Pingback: Paul Davies - Radio-People

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