In my opinion (which therefore makes it infallible truth, seeing as how Jesus said “Thou art Peter and upon this rock” etc.), the most consistently funny television show of all time was Whose Line Is It Anyway? By which I mean the American version, because the British version wasn’t as funny, although it still had its moments of greatness too. Whose Line was all about improv. There was no script, just a bunch of comedians who acted out sketches on the barest of suggestions.
One of the better sketches was called “Newsflash” and consisted of two members pretending to be newscasters while a third (usually Colin Mochrie) was put in front of a green screen. He didn’t know what was being displayed on the green screen behind him, but had to pretend that he did. By the end of the sketch, based on clues given him, he had to guess what it had actually been showing.
Here’s one of my favorite examples:
Now that you’re back from following the linked videos and getting your fill of Whose Line clips, I’ll appear to randomly change the subject…
When most of us try to visualize time, we tend to think of it from the perspective in which we perceive it. That’s to be expected, of course, but if we think about it in detail, we find flaws with our typical concepts. For example, we tend to believe that what we are experiencing as “now” is now for everyone, everywhere. That it’s some kind of “universal now.”
But this treats time as an objective reality. However, modern physics (and many philosophies) reject the objective nature of time. Time is relative to the observer in physics—there is no constant “speed” of time, and there is no objective “now” for any two observers. Indeed, one observer may view two events as simultaneous while another observer views those same two events as one preceding the other. Both views are equally valid, if you take their relative motion into account.
In the end, time is intricately linked to space. Einstein’s method of treating time as a fourth dimension worked well in math, and typically physics still keeps time as an extra dimension. Even in M-theory, where there are eleven physical dimensions, time is seen as an extra dimension too (so it’s common for someone holding to M-theory to say “There are eleven dimensions plus time”). String theory typically states there are ten dimensions plus time, and so on. Additionally, in theistic views, time is usually seen as having been created by God along with the rest of the universe. Therefore, time is intimately linked with space under theistic views too.
It’s easy for us to visualize space (or at least objects in space) as an abstract quantity. We can imagine any object, say, a desk. It exists in space, and the dimensions of the desk define the dimensions of the space the desk exists within. It is far more difficult to picture time in here as well, but we can imagine a desk as it progresses through time. The desk starts new, then gets scratches, coffee spills on it, kids draw on it, until such point as the wood begins to rot and eventually the desk crumbles away.
While it is easy for us to visualize the special aspect of the desk, we can’t visualize the entire time-line of the desk as a whole in spacetime, as that would require us to view something in at least four dimensions. But while it is difficult for us to view it, it is not at all difficult to write mathematical equations about it and understand how the variables interact with each other.
Since we view only the special aspects, we usually think of various objects as special snapshots within time. We mentally compare a start point with an end point, but we cannot see the time dimension itself. I would like to suggest that in order to view the entirety of the object, one must also take into account the timeline of the object, viewing the whole in spacetime rather than just in space. I would suggest that that is how God views the universe. Obviously we cannot do it, but we can come up with analogies to help us better understand certain concepts.
One of the better analogies has come to us from the movie industry. This is the epitome of a series of snapshots in time, usually at the rate of 24 frames per second (for movies) or 30 per second (for TV). What’s interesting is if you film at, say 48 frames per second, and play back at 24 frames per second, time will appear to take twice as long for the actors involved. Or, if you film at 12 frames per second and play it at 24 frames per second, time will appear to take half as long. Varying the speed at which action is filmed varies the appearance of time, and gives us such things as the “slow-motion” shot. Alternatively, you can alter the speed at which the film is played back (such as when you press fast-forward while playing a movie) instead of when the film is shot.
So suppose you watch a scene of a movie and you set your DVD player to play it in slow motion. The events unfold and seem to take much longer than they normally would; but, from the perspective of the characters in the video, time does not take any longer than normal. That’s because, from the character’s perspective, everything has slowed in relation to each other. Put it this way: if it takes 24 frames for the character to reach a certain point, it will always take 24 frames regardless if you play it at 12 frames per second or 48 frames per second. Changing the frame rate in playback doesn’t affect the number of frames used for the action.
Let us extend the analogy. Suppose that there are four scenes in a movie: A, B, C, and D. Suppose that for the characters, the events unfold chronologically. A happens before B, B before C, and C before D. What would happen if you took D and spliced it between A and B? You would have A, D, B, C (this would be similar to old theaters when the rolls of film got mixed up). The characters at point D know things that occurred in B and C, but D is played before B or C are played. From the point of view of the characters involved, B and C both preceded D even if D is played back before B and C. That is, as far as the characters in the movie are concerned, they have a specific history that is related to the story itself that has nothing to do with how the film is played back. You could actually randomize the entire movie so that there are no two consecutive frames. Pick any frame at random, and the characters in it will have knowledge of the history of whatever went before them, and will know nothing of the future that is ahead of them, within the context of that frame.
This means that, again as far as the characters are concerned, you could completely randomize time and they would not know it. Someone who watches the movie would know, but not the characters in it. Techniques like this (although not as extreme) have been used by many non-linear movies. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an example of such a non-linear story, where the things that occur chronologically at the end of the story are shown in the middle of the movie, etc. As far as the characters are concerned, there is no “jumping” in time—but the audience can see it.
Let’s take that analogy and apply it to reality itself: as long as we have a concept of history, time itself could actually be completely randomized and we would not know it. That is, the “now” that we have could have been preceded by a “now” in the middle of next week, but we wouldn’t know it because we have only the experience of our history in mind at our “now.” While it is certainly unlikely that this is the case, what it shows is once again that our experiences in time do not have any bearing on the way that time actually unfolds from the perspective of an outside observer, such as God. God could have arranged time like a movie director, in that as He “views” the movie of the universe, He might see the Flood occur after the Resurrection. For that matter, time could be flowing backwards.
Of course, such assumes a closed future. That is, it views all objects in their entirety in both space and time. If God views the Flood after He views the Resurrection (on His heavenly DVD player), then the characters at the Flood could not do other than they did do. For God has already seen the Resurrection, which occurred after the Flood in chronological time, and required the actions of the Flood to have already been in the history of the universe at that point, even if it hadn’t yet been viewed.
It is important to note that this truth has absolutely nothing to do with what the people existing in time observe. Again, time could be completely randomized and they would not sense it. This is a function of an outside observer having seen that portion of the spacetime existence of an object, not a function of the character who is in time itself.
In the end, this means that if someone can view a complete object in spacetime, then the future is closed for that object. Whatever will happen is what will happen and it is unavoidable because it has been seen. More importantly, it means that if we exist as objects seen fully in spacetime by someone outside of spacetime, that means that the future is fully, 100% determined for us too! This means that an outside observer could “play” history over and over, just like we do a video, and the same exact results will obtain because the object that exists at any particular point in time (from its perspective) exists in the future and the past as that same object. If it were to change, then it would mean that randomizing time would be observable to people within time.
And this brings me back to Whose Line (bet you thought I forgot). Because of the movie analogy, it is tempting for someone to argue that this determinism is due to a feature of characters following a script. Whose Line has no script, yet the same principals apply. Take a frame from the above video, say one that occurs 30 second into the clip. Colin at that point doesn’t know what is on the green screen. You could splice in a frame from 3:40 in. Colin now knows what was on the green screen. It doesn’t matter what order you play those frames in, nor if you play it forwards or backwards. As far as Colin is concerned within the context of the film clip, how you view it does not alter time for him. You can alter the outside perception of time—play it in slow motion or speed it up—but it will not affect his perception of what went on. When you view the clip, the events are fully determined. The ending will be what it will be as you watch it; it cannot be other than what it is.
Additionally, this does NOT require infallible knowledge on the part of the observer. For instance, if you watch the above clip, it requires a certain history to be true for the characters who have been filmed. This means that if you watch them “now,” it necessitates their history so that they get to that point, yet you are not infallible. And this means that if the last “frame of time” has been viewed by any outside observer, the entire scope of spacetime has been determined, because it must be what it is to get to that last frame.
Ultimately, this means that even if God knows our “future” imperfectly—if He simply knows any of it—determinism obtains up to that point. Whatever God knows from our future requires a certain history for the world to get to that future. If God has seen scene D in the movie, then scenes A, B, and C are determined even if we are only in scene A “now.”
The only way to avoid this is to assert that there is no actual future; there is only the present and an eternally unfolding “now.” But this would require an “objective now” that even God must follow. God cannot have seen the ending, because if He has then all the preceding events are determined even if He didn’t want them to be.