My Turn: Maybe God is a postmodernist
In a recent column, Edward Jaworski of Concord attacked the postmodern position that as society evolves, social norms evolve, altering, in many cases, what we consider to be true or false (“In defense of fundamentalism and the supreme standard,” Monitor Opinion page, July 9). He was particularly incensed about society’s increasing acceptance of gay marriage: “Fundamentalism is built on the premise that there are certain foundational truths and principles that are timeless, unchangeable and nonnegotiable.”
He attacked “the bias and intolerance of many who oppose his view” and, I’m afraid, I am one of those people. While I respect his position, I beg to differ, believing that most of what we think we know are not ultimate truths but human truths. We each view our world through our own unique lens, grounded in our own culture and historical time and place, in combination with biological predispositions and unique human experiences.
We are like the parable about the three blind men, each feeling a different part of an elephant. Not being able to see the big picture, one blind man feels the elephant’s trunk and thinks it is a hose; the second blind man feels the elephant’s leg and thinks it is a trunk of a tree, while the third blind man feels the elephant’s tail and thinks it is a rope.
Most of life is socially constructed based on our culture and actual experiences. I have long believed that science is no different. Yes, scientists make hypotheses and conduct painstaking experiences based on the actual facts, but in the end they are no different than the three blind men. For instance, if your hypothesis is that the trunk of a tree is big and round and scaly, then, based on the facts, an elephant’s leg, taken in isolation, is indeed a tree.
Recently, a prominent scientist, Lee Smolin, wrote Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, which seeks to confirm and enlarges this postmodern thesis. Until recently, he was a conventional scientist, believing that the goal of science is to work toward discovering the “really real”: eternal and timeless laws of the universe, which can be expressed in elegant, succinct mathematical equations.
However, like society, Smolin’s ideas have evolved. He has found evidence that changed his mind, and he now believes it is time for science to make a fundamental paradigm shift. In his book, he demonstrates how science went off-track four centuries ago when scientists, starting with Descartes and Galileo, first introduced mathematics into physics.
From that point forward until today, laws of physics were presumed to be mathematical laws, timeless and eternal with the unfortunate end result that time itself has been given short shrift: Scientists have ignored “the seemingly most essential aspect of our existence in the world – its presentation to us as a succession of present moments.”
This makes no sense. It defies logic that the past, present and future all exist, but without direction or flow. Nothing in this picture of the universe explains how one instant leads to the next.
Smolin’s new book breaks new ground by asserting that, in fact, time does flow, a fact so fundamental that it is linked to the evolution of the universe. He posits that there is “a single rate at which time flows,” a rate that is the same throughout the universe. He stresses that this isn’t a refutation of Einstein’s theory, just a reformulation. But it brings a big payoff: “Time has been rediscovered.”
The ramifications are immense, far greater than the scientific discovery that the world is round, not flat. All our belief systems would have to radically change if everything is evolving in real time, even the cosmos and the laws that govern it.
Scientists would have to stop their quest for the Holy Grail of eternal, timeless truth. And religions would have to adapt to Supreme Beings who are no longer timeless and eternal, but evolving like the rest of us.
Just think: If Smolin is right, God is a postmodernist, too!
(Jean Stimmell lives in