Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Time Travel and Religion

I once saw Michael J. Fox at a charity event, and one of the fans asked him if the reason the DeLorean always broke down whenever it was used was because God disapproved of time travel. The threat of he and his loved ones being erased from existence, was that a warning somewhat similar to others God has sent (for different reasons)?

Before I proceed further with this discussion, I ask two things: first, that we all engage in this discussion with as much respect for each other's religious opinions as possible and secondly, that those that may be offended by a religious discussion choose not to participate and read no further.

In preparation for posting this, I read through the religious text with which I'm most familiar, the Bible, but could not find anything related to time travel. I did some searching on the Internet and while I found some discussion, I could find no actual scripture addressing it. I understand there are many other holy books out there, and I'm hoping that those more familiar with the Qu'ran and others can offer up any references they find.

Once time travel is possible, the first application is likely to be religious in nature. I'd imagine one of the first trips would be to travel back and witness our own origins ("Genesis", in Christianity). The next trip may be to witness our endings ("Judgment Day"). And at some point I would imagine we'd travel back in time to connect with key individuals and prophets. All of these trips would have tremendous religious overtones and we'd be deeply reliant on religion not only to put whatever we learned into context, but to make the right decisions about who to send, and when, and how they should conduct themselves.

Think about it - if tomorrow there was an announcement that we could send a man back or forward through time, who would we send, where would they go, and what would we hope to learn? Those are not scientific questions, and Stephen Hawking couldn't help us.

Let the discussion begin. :)


Matsby said...

I look forward to this discussion. I don't think anything is offensive here.

Personally I think God can control time. I don't know of any specific references to it in the scriptures. But there are a few things that get me thinking on this subject (and sorry, these are just a jumble of thoughts)...

And of course, I don't know the mind of God, so this is all speculation...

The scriptures do say that God's time is not our time. In the book of Abraham (a Mormon scripture) it says that one thousand years on earth is equal to 1 day in heaven - I don't know how literal that should be read, but I do think the time stream is different here on earth to wherever God/heaven is. I think we travel through time at a certain rate and I think He travels through time at a certain rate. And I believe sometimes he comes to our earth and goes back and forth between the two streams.

I don't think God is a wizard who can just do anything with magic. I think he does whatever he does by the same physics and science we work with. With science, man figures out a little bit more each year - but I think God already knows all of the science. But the point is it is the same science. So if time travel will ever be possible, then I believe God already knows how to do it - and does do it.

How does God go from Heaven or wherever to earth? I don't think he walks the distance, but that he has some control of traveling through space/dimensions somehow - maybe through worm holes? Maybe something else we humans haven't thought of yet. I believe he probably has similar control moving through time.

Also do you believe in the visions of the prophets of old? God showed John the Revelator and Isaiah visions of the future? How? Was it just a dream? Maybe. But I also sometimes think maybe he opened up a window through time and allowed them to look from one point in time into another point in time. How? I don't know for sure, we haven't figured out the science of that yet (though like I said, I think God already knows the science behind it).

And maybe come judgement day, we will be able to go back and see all the things we did - through some kind of time-window.

As to the question of how would God feel about it? That I don't really have many ideas about. If we could time travel, what would that do to our free will and the choices we make? I think God is all about free will and the choices we make, so that could possibly effect his plan (assuming he has a plan). You know, like what if you went back and stopped them from killing Jesus? That was their decision to make, so to go back and save those people from making that choice, seems a bit unfair in some way to me.

If it was going to hamper things like that I could understand an interventionist God limiting our understanding of some of the science. Like if to develop time travel, we must understand a, b, c, and d, then maybe he would put "d" just beyond out reach. I wouldn't be surprised if he did something like that.

So yeah, those are some of my thoughts. I would love to hear what others think. Do you think God can time travel? Do you think he would want to stop us from learning how - and would he stop us from learning how?

Matsby said...

And I have often thought about going back to see Adam and Eve. I think if we totally understood the beginning of things (assuming that is the beginning), it would change EVERYTHING.

And then of course, if we could go back and see Jesus, then our beliefs in him wouldn't rely so much on faith - as much as on pure personal knowledge.

Matsby said...

But maybe we SHOULD have faith. So maybe getting the personal experience and losing the need for faith is a problem.

Robert Vollman said...

So if we were to figure out time travel tomorrow, does that mean God thinks we're ready? You know, since the science was within our reach?

And who knows - maybe we're supposed to go back and save Jesus. Maybe that's what it's all about ... just like how parents sacrifice for their children and when their children grow up, they return the favour.

Matsby said...

I dunno. We figured out how to make the atomic bomb - was he okay with that or was he just letting us do our thing with the will he gave us? So maybe he wouldn't stop us from getting the technology to time travel if he would rather we didn't.

And I like your point about saving Jesus. That's a really cool idea. Kind of beautiful. Maybe part of His plan is that we one day go back and fix everything.

Maybe it's some kind of redemption, for mankind to fix some of the things mankind did. Like as a step in some kind of universal repentance maybe?

Jeremy said...

This seems a little like that movie Contact. If we sent back a religious person, non-believers wouldn't trust him. They'd wonder if they really did exist by the time traveler was just reporting the religious line knowing that he could singlehandedly destroy religion.

Conversely, if we sent back a non-believer, would religious people trust him if he came back and said there was no Adam and Eve?

Matsby said...

True. For those reasons, I am not sure I would trust anyone who has traveled through time when they report back what they've seen. For anything to change my mind, I would have to experiencing it for myself.

Then again most likely seeing it for themselves still wouldn't be enough for many people: Maybe the non-believer when he saw Adam and Eve would still not believe. He would explain it away some how that still supports his prior beliefs. And maybe the believer when he saw no Adam and Eve, would come up with an explanation that still supports his faith.

Muddy Waters said...

Orson Scott Card wrote a book that dealt with some of these issues. It's called Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.
Not his best, but not his worst either, and some interesting ideas about how time travel and religion could interact.

Des said...

There are a number of philosophical reasons actually why time travel may not work. One that comes to mind is Sir Isaac Newton's theory of Absolutism.

As for the church, they believed that we didn't even control our own destiny, this was called predestination.

But does what does God want? Only he knows?

Einstein once said, "God does not play dice with the universe", to which Bohr replied,"Don't tell God what to do."

tom said...

Using time machines to take a religious pilgrimages gives one pause for contemplation? How much of the narrative in a religious document is historical? Or what turns out to be fact might be of considerable interest to theologians, archeologist, historians and the pedestrian believer? Though I am skeptical that a civilization that can 'time travel' might have resolved 'personal spiritual pursuit' and 'institutional religion'? There are 'fringier' things about religion and history than in physics? I'd recommend A.C> Clarke's 'Light of Other Days'.

Alex said...

You say "I am not sure I would trust anyone who has traveled through time when they report back what they've seen." Yet in one sense or another prophets have "seen" or been "shown" the future or perhaps were taken there as you suggest; and you trust them. I guess it would take faith no matter what; even in ones own eyes as even they can be fooled(empericism).