International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

On Space and Time

edited by Shahn Majid

Introductory Essay by Christopher Corbally

This book is a collection of essays written by top mathematicians, physicists, and theologians. They ponder a perennial question, the true nature of space and time. In the Preface, Majid admits that we will not find the answer in this book. “Rather it provides six refreshingly diverse points of view” [xi] on the topic and, in doing so, exposes the reader to the cutting edge of pure mathematics, theoretical physics, and astronomy.

Andrew Taylor’s opening essay lays out the groundwork for the experimental picture of the Universe. Into this picture come observations of the recession rate of distant galaxies and of the general and detailed characteristics of cosmic microwave background radiation. The Standard Cosmological Model (SCM) is shown to be built on the Big-Bang model, and the evidence for and roles in the SCM of dark matter and dark energy are presented. Taylor puts forward some ideas for the nature of these two mysterious, yet dominant, components of the Universe, even as he suggests that the next level of answers will require some “leap of insight into the nature of space and time and quantum theory” [54-55]

It is that leap for which Shahn Majid tries to prepare us in the next essay. He addresses the question of why things are quantized, how there is a problem regarding the cosmological constant, and proposes the solution of quantum spacetime, all within the tools of noncommutative geometry. If these terms are unfamiliar, the essay will help them become part of one’s vocabulary and so offer a new way of looking beyond the classical world of physics. Majid even leads us into speculations of the ‘self-dual’ nature of the new physics, and so into metaphysics.

Roger Penrose is concerned with time in respect to space. His essay puts before us the idea of conformal cyclic cosmology. He presents the idea that if the Universe is endlessly cyclic then remnant information from a previous universe could be observable in ours using gravitational wave detectors and cosmic microwave background satellites.

Even those who find that they must skim over the mathematics of the next essay, On the fine structure of spacetime, by Alain Connes, will at least come to understand that the new field of noncommutative geometry can systematize the properties of fundamental physical particles.

Michael Heller’s essay, Where physics meets metaphysics, might seem more readable; but its contrast of the fundamental level, as hinted at by quantum nonlocality, to the macroscopic world, will provoke disquieting thoughts of an aspatial and atemporal realm that conflict with classical understandings of space and time. This caution especially applies to the theology of God’s attributes such as eternity, omnipresence, or being the Prime Cause.

A final, short essay by John Polkinghorne contrasts the block universe, in which time is looked down on from the outside, with a universe of unfolding becoming. The former leads to classical theology, while the latter adds a temporal dimension to God for an Open Theology.

If the reader’s knowledge of mathematics and physics relies on school rather than university foundations, then he or she will find these essays a considerable challenge. However, courage – and an ability to skim off the essential points – will be rewarded. For this is a fascinating, contemporary book with “visions of lasting value” [xi] that are bound to stimulate new perspectives on the question of space and time. Such perspectives, ones that go beyond a mechanistic approach to the question, are essential for deepening any expression of the relationship between science and religion.