The notion that both space and time came into existence at the Big Bang has always intrigued me and simultaneously escaped my grasp. For as the universe both expanded and cooled, I cannot take away from my mind the sense of being able to somehow look from the outside of this phenomenon of the universe’s creation, existence and expansion, and to observe it from a “God’s eye” point of view. But the impossibility of such a viewpoint for a mortal is found precisely in the event being “observed” from the outside; for there is nothing outside of the expanding universe and therefore no vantage point from which to view it. This “nothing” beyond the universe is what defies my thinking, because I tend to think of the universe expanding into something, yet there is nothing to expand into because space and time exist only within the universe. Like an inflating balloon, the universe is creating and filling its own space, except in the universe there is nothing beyond the latex limit of the balloon for the universe is creating its limits. Part of the trouble is I am still looking at the balloon from the outside and so have this distorted view that there is something beyond the limits of the balloon and thus the universe. There are many graphics portraying the current scientific idea of how the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang, but they too take the perspective from outside what exists – an impossible view point for us. Here is one from the New York Times:
It dawned on me the other day that the universe also has to be understood in terms of time, not just space. And in this thinking, I can accept the sense that the future does not exist (even if I want to qualify it with a “yet”). Time is expanding out, but there is nothing beyond the current moment. The universe is creating its own time, beyond which there is nothing. Accepting the sense of nothing as the future helps me to understand how the universe can be expanding but not moving into something. Rather it is actually growing all that is just like time does ever making the future (nothing) into the present and past. Time is not pushing into the future (the future isn’t there!), time is claiming more for itself as the universe expands. The future doesn’t exist anymore than something existing beyond the expanding universe. We can abstractly talk about the future as we can talk about negative or irrational numbers or imaginary numbers. They don’t have to exist in reality to be meaningful and helpful. The whole history of algebra is humanity’s push into increasingly abstract thinking and ever more imaginary numbers which allow new equations to be solved.
And the universe expands at an accelerating rate – not into something but rather creating the space and the time which it fills. From the human point of view, there is no “outside” the universe, and graphics which look at the Big Bang from an external point of view are misleading. We can only see and understand the universe from within it, and we need to come up with graphics that are true to this reality.
Finally, we need to remember that science is that study of the universe from within, and so science is limited by the universe itself. Those who believe in God believe God, who in no way is limited by the universe and who is its Creator, does intervene in and reveal Himself within the universe and in and through that which exists. We believe in and accept this other dimension – divinity – which is beyond the competency of science which can only study the universe itself. Science truly has to color within the lines of space and time. God does not.
See also my Why Is it Creation Versus Evolution? and The Dark Side of the Universe
One thought on “Coloring Inside the Lines of Space and Time”
I had never stopped to consider that although the light we see from the far galaxies is from eons ago perhaps, we are all experiencing the same ‘present’. Now, I don’t know that I’ll be trying to absorb much algebra, though.