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Time Travel at Oral Roberts

April 14, 2012

The next stop in my Oklahoma tour was Oral Roberts University, where a science fiction conference was held by my friend Andy Lang, who teaches mathematics. ORU, as I discovered online, has a colorful history perhaps worthy of a novel. Those of us attending the conference received a warm welcome, including about twenty wonderful ORU students. (I may be prejudiced since a couple of them had read my books very thoughtfully). Some were from the science fiction class taught by Andy with Mark Hall, which I visited several years ago through Second Life.

One presentation we heard was by physicist Paul Davies, on the possibility of time travel. Davies explained to us that time travel forward is not only a possibility, but something our GPS satellites do every day, for billionths of a second that would screw up all our Garmins if it were not corrected. Time travel backwards would be more difficult, requiring something called “negative energy.” It’s not clear where we would get enough negative energy to keep open a wormhole, for instance.

Davies expressed skepticism regarding the various space travel devices of Star Trek. On the other hand, Davies said he had no problem with a “time loop” in which someone goes back in time to cause some event, then continues on to the future and goes back again. Such time loops would be consistent with known physics. That’s if we could figure out how to manage it.

My talk was about evolution. I showed how my students are studying bacterial evolution in our laboratory, and how our findings relate to human evolution. Humans and other apes have evolved under considerably selection pressure for increased sociality and brain power. Another force in evolution may be that of immune system diversity. It is hypothesized that after humans and chimps began to diverge from a common ancestor, they interbred several times. Later, Homo interbred with other human populations such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. These populations may have restored immune system genetic diversity to the highly inbred Homo population.

Following an excellent dinner on the sixtieth floor of the former medical school, a conference attender said that ORU is trying to integrate concepts of evolution into their Bible-based curriculum. He asked how it was possible to reconcile common descent of humans and apes with the creation of Adam and original sin. Lacking time travel, I didn’t have an answer for that, but I wondered whether literal reading of Genesis guarantees wise judgments today. We agreed that it does not.

So then, what is in fact our best basis for making wise judgments? How is the average non-science trained person to know if they should accept the claims that time loops are possible and that humans interbred with chimps? And how should they wisely decide whether it’s good to travel back in time, or to breed with chimps?

BTW the tornado in Norman today was just a day too late to catch me there, but I hear the winds howling outside tonight.

P. S. (next morning)  Missed again!  A beautiful day!

3 Comments
  1. April 14, 2012 9:12 am

    Thanks Joan. It was a pleasure to have you at ORU and your presentations and discussions were beneficial and world-view changing for both our students and our faculty. It was also a great blessing for me personally.

    The specifics of what Paul Davies called self-consistency are briefly described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novikov_self-consistency_principle

  2. April 14, 2012 6:55 pm

    Stay clear of those twisters, Joan!

    The question I’d ask at ORU, if you wish to be mildly impolite, is why they focus on Genesis 1:5, and not the first verses of Genesis, which would seem to make things like space travel and solar energy impossible.

    Actually, I’m mostly glad that they’re not quite so closed minded as one naively assume from the outside. And that the tornadoes have missed them.

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