Science to the rescue

April 18, 1997

In his very interesting article "Let there be Darwin" (THES, March 21) Russell Stannard says that the theory of relativity implies that time and space are welded together as a four-dimensional continuum.

Consequently, he says, many physicists believe that, in some sense, all of time exists at each point in space, in the same way as all of space exists at each point of time.

He concludes that the future exists and so there is no reason why God should not have a look at it. He cites this as an example of how science can help religious belief, while at the same time recognising the problem that it causes for a belief in free will.

The latter is surely a very serious problem indeed: if the future exists, and God knows it, then we have no free will and there is no point in asking for God's guidance and help, something religious people do frequently. Indeed I heard on Thought for the Day this morning that Russell Stannard is sponsoring a scientific experiment to find out if praying for sick people is effective, ie to find out if the future can be altered.

It occurs to me that there may be a way out of this dilemma. Suppose that, instead of God knowing the future (singular), he knows all possible futures (plural). This would give meaning to prayer since God could give guidance and help because he knows the long-term consequences of any particular choice.

This would mean of course that the future (singular) does not exist and hence the physicists view of the space-time continuum mentioned above is wrong. Could this be a case of religious belief helping science rather than the other way round?

I await the results of the experiment but unfortunately Stannard says that God may decide not to cooperate because the Bible says that we are not to put God to the test!

TREVOR RANDALL Head of mathematics and physics department, Manchester Metropolitan University

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