Theoretical physicists and cosmologists can’t help stepping into metaphysical territory. What was there before the universe? What is outside the universe? Does it make sense to ask these questions?
Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn makes occasional reference to God as a kind of easy answer to such questions, and this is right – sometimes it is an insufficient answer, but he is also underestimating the concept of God as it is usually understood in theology. And these are not new questions that modern science is asking.
Smolin thinks Christianity is too focussed on timelessness, and it is true that Christianity has been aligned with Platonism, but there are other currents in Christianity that also focus on the here and now, and the importance of not getting lost in contemplation of the otherworldly. Dealing with the here and now is one of the points of Christ coming to inhabit the human milieu (which includes being time-bound).
Somlin’s is an extraordinary book, and it is particularly so in its final pages where Smolin, unlike in most books of this sort, applies his theories of time in theoretical physics to issues such as ecological crises and free market economics. He argues that reinforcing the importance of the reality of time will help us make the necessary synthesis between nature and technology. And he questions classic (and conservative) economic theories that suggest free markets find a natural equilibrium (modelling suggests no such thing). To be arguing this is not revolutionary, but it is amazing that musings on the structure of the universe can have such an immediate bearing on these social issues.