Picking and Choosing Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
As an old physics teacher, I find it interesting to watch people on both sides of the argument about the existence of God pick and choose various parts of Einstein’s work to support their positions. Recently I had an atheist and a Christian dispensationalist both use Einstein’s time dilation equation to support their position. That equation says that your time in motion is determined by your time at rest divided by the square root of one minus your velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared.

This formula indicates that the higher the velocity of motion, the smaller the value of the denominator of that equation becomes. Therefore, time expands. This is a fact. Neutrons in nuclear accelerators might live 18 minutes at rest before decaying into protons and electrons. When accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, they last much longer before decaying.

My atheist friend maintains that since the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion, it will eventually reach the speed of light and time will stop. He then proposes that time will reverse since the value of the denominator in Einstein’s equation would become negative. He then suggests that this process will be repeated in an eternal universe. Therefore, no beginning and no God.

My dispensationalist friend is one of several authors who propose that the universe started out expanding at a much higher velocity with time passing at a different rate than we experience today. This would mean that the evidence for the cosmos being very old is an illusion. In the beginning, time passed more slowly because of the much higher velocity of expansion. Since we move more slowly today, time is passing faster. Therefore, the universe is much younger than it would appear.

Both of these proposals are made to support a personal religious opinion. Both of them are ignoring much of Einstein’s work. When the neutron referred to earlier is accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, not only does its time frame change but its mass changes too. Another one of Einstein’s equations looks just like the time equation but deals with mass. The change in the mass of a particle is equal to its mass at rest divided by the square root of one minus its velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared.

Experimentally this calculation works and can be verified. Perhaps the most well-known equation of Issac Newton is F = MA. This tells us that the force (F) needed to accelerate a mass (M) is equal to its mass multiplied by the acceleration (A). We all know from experience that the greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to speed it up when we push it, and the faster we want it to go the harder we have to push. If the mass increases as you get near the speed of light, what happens to the force you have to exert? Obviously, It increases too. At the speed of light, you would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite force to move it.

Another fascinating equation from Einstein is that the length of an object changes as it approaches the speed of light. In the reverse of the change in time and mass, the length contracts as the object gets closer the speed of light. At the speed of light, the length would be zero, and the object would cease to exist.

These are simplifications of Einstein’s work, but the point is that relativistic effects cannot be picked and chosen while ignoring other effects. God created the cosmos with certain constants and relationships. These choices allow us to exist, but they also put a limit on what is possible. We struggle to comprehend all that is involved in the simple phrase, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017