The special theory of relativity and the reality of St. Paul | Opinion

When I was in graduate school an eon ago, I was forced to take a sequence of advanced courses in research methods and statistics. These classes were heavy on math and statistical theory.

I’d earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature. As fate would have it, there were several other students in those classes who, like me, had arrived from liberal arts backgrounds.

Mainly, we misfits sat together in the back of the room staring at each other blankly as our professors and the more STEM-oriented grad students rattled on happily about interquartile range variances and standard deviations.

This produced not a little bit of humor directed our way. One wag referred to us collectively as “the poets’ corner.” Which was just about right.

I tell this as a way of saying that, despite my early misgivings, I eventually developed an interest in scientific and mathematical subjects such as cosmology, astrophysics and quantum mechanics—but late in life. Very late indeed.

I’m not naturally inclined toward them. I’m not good at them. I’m not even a half-wit amateur. So take anything I say here with a grain of salt.

Paul Prather
Paul Prather

Yet these subjects have come to fascinate me. And I’m amazed at how closely they echo principles I first encountered in the Bible.

I’m now reading Michio Kaku’s “The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything.” It’s a primer for beginners, and even so a good deal of it is over my head.

It traces the progression of scientific thought about the nature of the universe from Newton through Einstein’s two theories of relativity and on up through quantum physics, the Higgs boson (the so-called God particle) and beyond.

(By the way, when scientists speak of a God equation or a God particle, they’re not talking about the God of the scriptures. It’s just a euphemism.)

I’ve been repeatedly struck while reading Kaku’s book—as I have been before—by the similarities between what the scientific world’s great geniuses have found to be true, and what the pre-scientific authors of the Bible told us millennia ago.

One night, confused by a chapter in “The God Equation,” I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos, searching for an expert there who could explain what Kaku was saying in remedial terms poets could understand.

Eventually I watched a video called “Time: Do the past, present, and future exist all at once?” It’s part of a series called “Big Think,” where scientists discuss complicated precepts in simple language.

In the “Time” video, Michelle Thaller, an astronomer at NASA, talks about the implications of Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

Einstein, Thaller says, held that the Big Bang “created all of space and all of time at once in a big whole something. So every point in the past and every point in the future are just as real as the point of time you feel yourself in right now. Einstein believed that literally.”

When his best friend died, Einstein wrote the widow that her husband was still very much alive—and “just over the next hill.”

Thaller says, “Einstein believed that you right now had been dead for trillions of years, but you haven’t been born yet. That everything that’s happened to you, if you could get the right perspective on the universe, you could see all at once.”

Coincidentally, as I watched that video I was already several weeks into preaching a sermon series at church, part of which explored the biblical concept of time—which I suddenly realized says in a slightly different vocabulary exactly what Einstein said.

In the Bible, we’re told that everything that happens now has already happened before and yet will happen again. Jesus is crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem in the First Century — but was crucified before the world was created.

St. Paul describes the Christians of his day as having themselves been crucified with Jesus, buried with him, resurrected with him and already ascended into heaven with him, even though they are still living on Earth and never knew Jesus when he walked here.

On and on it goes. Jesus claims to have known Abraham, who lived a couple of thousand years earlier. Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration alongside Jesus, although they’ve been dead for ages.

The correlations between Einstein’s theory of special relativity and these ancient, pre-scientific sages is only one example of the scientific-biblical echoes.

A New Testament writer says everything in the universe was made of things unseeable with human eyes and St. Paul tells us God is the invisible force who holds all matter together, who keeps it from disintegrating into nothingness—the ultimate God particle, you might think.

Because there wasn’t yet oxygen, there couldn’t have been a literal Big Bang, one science writer observes. In fact, it technically would have been a Big Light. But the implications of that are, the writer adds, too Genesis-like to contemplate.

I don’t presume to know what all of this taken together means. Still, there’s so much of it that it’s hard to miss.

The Bible isn’t intended as a scientific textbook, and science doesn’t prove the scriptures true.

But there’s no doubt those ancient nomads, carpenters and fishermen tapped into something way beyond themselves. They sensed truths they had no logical means of proving.

Our physical universe—and our spirits—are vast, beautiful mysteries. We should explore both with our hearts wide open.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at