Time and Eternity
D. H. B. Falconer, P.M.
THE CONCEPT OF IMMORTALITY
Foremost among the precepts of Freemasonry are a belief in God and in the immmortality of the soul. God is recognised as the divine creator of the universe and the soul is that element of the divine spirit that resides in every person and distinguishes it from all other living things. The philosophical and theological aspects of these precepts are of special interest. The world's most widespread and enduring religions, from ancient times to the present, have important elements in common, of which a belief in a Supreme Being is preeminent. The Supreme Being is assigned a wide range of attributes and is known by many titles, commonly referred to under the name of God. A closely allied belief is that God has endowed every person with an inner life spirit, or immortal soul. Within each of these beliefs there is a wide range of philosophies and a broad spectrum of interpretive detail. For example, the soul generally is believed either to be a part of God's spirit, or at the very least to be at one with God's spirit. In Hinduism, dating back more than 5,000 years, it is believed that the soul is immortal and coeval with God's spirit, having neither beginning nor ending and consequently eternal. By contrast, Christian theology generally considers each human birth as a new creation that is immortal and consequently everlasting. Between these extremes there are many nuances of interpretation. The most familiar statement that reflects this spectrum of belief probably is that of the preacher in Ecclesiastes who said: "Then the dust shall return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
The word immortality came through Middle English and Old French from the Latin mortalitas, signifying that which cannot or will never die. Immortal is usually used to describe that attribute of the Deity or of the soul which, in relation to inanimate things, would be said to be deathless or undying. Imperishable is sometimes used in the more poetic passages to convey, perhaps more vividly, that something is not subject to death, decay or change. This introduces the concept of eternity and eternal life. Eternity also came through Middle English and Old French from the Latin aeternitas and in the strictest sense signifies something that has always existed in the past and will exist forever in the future, thus having neither beginning nor ending. In contrast, everlasting signifies something that will endure through time, never ceasing to exist once it has been created. Thus there is a subtle difference between "life eternal" and "everlasting life" — the former has neither beginning nor ending, whereas the latter allows for creation by birth followed by never-ending life. Infinity also is a closely related concept. The word is derived through Middle English and Old French from the Latin infinitas, signifying a state that is beyond measure, extending without end in space, time or number. In the theological sense, "infinite" connotes something that is absolute or perfect, such as God's infinite wisdom, power and mercy. These concepts are directly related to elements of the creation.
ELEMENTS OF THE CREATION
It cannot be a coincidence that two fundamental elements required in the creation process, space and time, are intangibles. We cannot touch space. Our comprehension of space depends entirely upon our ability to visualise that space exists between those objects we can see that are located in space. Nor can time be touched. Its very existence seems even less substantive than space, as our conception of time is necessarily based on the observation of transient events, not tangible objects. When developing his theories of relativity, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) visualised the universe as a curved elastic spacetime continuum. A consideration of spacetime in the creation shows that space and time cannot be regarded as independent entities, because time expands and contracts as intergalactic space expands and contracts under the influence of gravitational forces.
Space and time are conjoined by a third essential element of the creation process, which is light. Although light also is intangible, insofar as it cannot be touched, nevertheless it is visible and seems all pervasive, so its substance is more readily perceptible than that of other intangibles. It is common knowledge that light behaves in a wave-like manner, even though it is transmitted as photons which are discrete particles of energy. Because to the naked eye light appears to be initiated or extinguished instantaneously, it seems natural and is readily acceptable that nothing can travel faster than light. By extension it is not difficult to accept that all other electromagnetic waves, such as radio, travel through space at the velocity of light. Light is fundamental energy, equatable with matter and subject to the same laws of conservation of energy. Light defines a finite boundary for velocity, thus also defining the boundaries of space in the finite expanding spacetime continuum that comprises our universe. Therefore light provides a direct and positive link from the primeval explosion of the creation, through the present and on into an endless future. Thus light is the fundamental element connecting time with eternity.
When the Scottish physicist and astronomer James Maxwell (1831-1879) investigated the propagation of light, he developed equations that describe how light and all other radiations are propagated through space in the form of electromagnetic variations having a miniscule wavelength around three thousandths of a centimetre and travelling at the velocity of light, some 300,000 kilometres per second. Maxwell's equations make no allowance for light to be slowed down by the force of gravity as it leaves a star, whereas the established laws of motion derived by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), take the forces of gravity into account. To reconcile this apparent incompatibility, Einstein developed his special theory of relativity for bodies travelling at constant velocities. His famous equation interrelates the velocity of light with energy and mass, demonstrating the interchangeability of energy and mass and proving that nothing can exceed the velocity of light. It also shows that time on a moving object slows down as its velocity increases, ultimately ceasing at the velocity of light.
Einstein realised that his special theory of relativity did not give a complete explanation of the universe, as Newton had when he published his Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687, generally referred to as Newton's Principia. To overcome this deficiency, Einstein spent another ten years developing the general theory of relativity published in 1916. The general theory takes acceleration and the forces of gravity into account. It explains how spacetime is warped by the gravitational influences of bodies in space, so that it acts like a lens and deflects beams of light. It also explains how a "dark" body is formed because its volume/mass relationship produces a gravitational force that requires an escape velocity greater than the velocity of light, thus precluding the escape of light. Anyone located on a "dark" body or within a "black hole" region, such as that in the centre of our Milky Way, would be unaware of their peculiar situation. As the observed rate of expansion of the universe is increasing by about 32 kilometres per second per million light years, which is small in comparison with the velocity of light, many millions of years are likely to elapse before complete darkness prevails over the universe.
THE ARROW OF TIME
The German surgeon and physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894), was a leader in the study of cause and effect and the relationship between heat and motion; coining the expression "conservation of energy". In 1847 he proclaimed the law of conservation of energy to be universal, applying to all things both living and inanimate. Then in 1854, when further considering the implications of the then evolving science of thermodynamics, Helmholtz put forward the concept that the universe is dying progressively and that ultimately it will reach a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, exhausted of all useful energy. Progressive deterioration from order to disorder, or chaos, was first investigated systematically in the 1880s by the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906), who studied the statistical behaviour of molecules of gas based on Newton's laws of motion. Boltzmann derived the theorem of equipartition of energy, called the Maxwell-Boltzmann law, relating the distribution of energy among the various parts of a system at a specific temperature. He also established the Boltzmann constant of physics, "k", which occurs in nearly every statistical formulation in both classical and quantum physics. The relationship between space, time, light and energy is vital in the relationship between time and matter, which the British astronomer, Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), described so aptly as the "arrow of time".
The arrow of time is the signpost called entropy pointing irrevocably from order to disorder. Entropy is the measure of disorder in any system that occurs when any change takes place. The fundamental laws of thermodynamics affirm that energy can be changed from one state to another, but cannot be created or destroyed, so that the total of what came into existence at the creation of the universe is all that can and will continue to exist in whatever form. They also confirm that natural events move towards a state of balance or equilibrium. Only a perfect crystalline solid at absolute zero temperature, -2730C, can be devoid of entropy and thus in a state of perfect order. An implication of these laws is that time progresses in one direction only — towards the future — during which matter progressively decays as part of an irreversible process, entropy continually and inexorably increasing with time until complete disorder prevails, as evidenced in nature.
If the many and varied creation beliefs in the ancient religions are considered in respect of their essential elements, stripped of the mythical connotations used to convey their message to primitive minds, then they are not incompatible with modern scientific explanations of how the universe evolved. Modern cosmological concepts do not negate religious concepts, nor the precepts of Freemasonry. Nevertheless there are many who use specific elements of cosmology or religion in an attempt to denigrate one with the other, instead of accepting each as an alternative strand leading to the same ultimate goal and seeking to develop complementary avenues of research.
Over the centuries repeated attempts have been made to disprove the existence of God, whether as the creator of the universe or in any other capacity, but none has succeeded. When the "big bang" theory of creation was first advanced, even some eminent scientists hailed it as conclusive proof that creation could be initiated without an input from some external force or power. Ultimately the proposition failed because the "big bang" depended upon the existence of an infinitely compressed nucleus from which matter could emanate, even if spacetime was not a prerequisite. Theories for the evolution of life on Earth without the assistance of some external influence likewise have failed for want of a "missing link". All attempts to generate life in the laboratory, without some living catalyst, have failed. The "breath of life" is as elusive as an infinitely compressed nucleus which, even if found, would be uncontrollable by present human resources, being the equivalent of the total nuclear resources of our universe. Basically, the input of a divine force provides the simplest solution for the initiation of creation and evolution, which is always nature's way.
Light is a vital component of the universe. Without light, life as we know it could not exist. Light probably is the most comprehensible of the intangible natural elements and is a perfect symbol of God. The law of conservation of energy allows for change, but neither gain nor loss of energy in a closed system, therefore not precluding some form of life, even if unknown to us, continuing in eternity. The "arrow of time" points irrevocably towards the ultimate decay of the universe as we know it, as foretold in the scriptures of all major religions. Will the ultimate degradation of our present universe coincide with the time when its ever dispersing physical components achieve the velocity of light, when time comes to rest and intergalactic darkness prevails? Would this event merely be another milestone in eternity, beginning another cycle of regeneration? These things we do not yet know.
Speculative Freemasonry developed from operative free masonry as a philosophical society. It urgently needs to be regenerated to fulfil its original and primary role, to enable it to take a prominent lead in seeking answers to questions such as these. Freemasons ought also to take a positive lead in achieving a reconciliation between science and universal religion, for the betterment and advancement of mankind. All petty differences must be put aside to achieve this end.