#342

November 04, 2013

God and Time

Dear Dr. Craig,

I'm a big fan of your work and I've listened to almost all you have available on the internet.

My question has to do with a contradiction that I think I see in some of your views concerning issues of simultaneous causation and the possibility of God entering time.

The following are three things that (to the best of my understanding) you affirm:

1) God exists timelessly. By this we mean, God exists as a single unchanging point or 'moment.'

2) God is the simultaneous cause of the universe. Since there is no time before time, as in a 'before-after' relationship--we appeal to simultaneous causation to eliminate the need for a before. This means that the initial point of time for the universe is simultaneous with the existence of a (hitherto described as) timeless God.

3) Finally, you, WL Craig, often say that God enters into time at the initial point of creation.

My problem is, I do not think all three of these statements can be true. The point at which God is timeless is simultaneous with creation--and the point where God is temporal is also simultaneous with creation. The result is: God becomes simultaneously timeless and temporal--which is a contradiction.

Now, I've heard you say (and I've read it in one of your scholarly articles) that God is timeless sans creation--but if creation does exist then it simply is not the case that God is timeless. There is no point at which God is actually timeless--rather, God is only hypothetically timeless.

Since there is no point at which God is actually timeless, I think we are forced to say: God actually began to exist--just as the universe (which at no point is timeless) began to exist. Consequently premise 1. of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, 'everything that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence,' includes our conception of God.

Now, we could avoid this if we simply say God still exists timelessly (even now). But, if this is true then God, does not know what time it is now and hence is not omniscient. Also, it seems hard to see how God could interact with his creation as time goes on. This would entail that the Christian conception of God is false and that we would need to shrink back into a kind of deism (i.e. God made us but he isn't temporal or all-knowing and he doesn't interact with the universe).

Oddly, I would like to propose my own solution to this problem. The trouble is, what I'm about to say sounds weird--I've never heard anyone else say it. I would feel a lot better if someone like yourself could assess my odd solution. Perhaps you've even though of it yourself. I would also appreciate any alternate solution you could give to solve the problem in question.

I propose we appeal to the Trinity. God the father is timeless. The Father is the simultaneous cause of the Son--who is essentially a temporal version of the Father. One of these two (or maybe both) cause the Spirit--which is also a temporal manifestation of God.

The Father simply remains timeless while the Spirit and the Son go about creating and interacting with the universe. Since the Son and Spirit are God, they know what time it is now--and consequently, God knows everything--even if the information is dispersed between persons.

Now, I know this sounds weird--but to me it makes sense. Statements like: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and by the word all things were made..." seem oddly similar to what I just described. Also, old statements from church councils like: "the Son emanates from the father as the Spirit emanates from the Son (and/or Father depending on if your coming from the Western Roma Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox side).

Finally, I think most people won't like the fact that on this view Jesus would not be eternal. Still I don't think this is a problem scripturally since scripture never says so much (or to my mind at least)--it only says he was "in the beginning" and "from eternity/ or from ancient days" (depending on your translation of Micah 5:2).

So, what do you think?

As always I appreciate your work and I can only imaging how busy you must always be.

God Bless,

Adam

United States

It’s important that you capture the nuances of my view accurately, Adam, otherwise it’s easy to generate a contradiction. For example, I don’t affirm simply

1. God exists timelessly.

For by the same token I also affirm

1´. God exists temporally.

But (1) and (1´) are contraries: they can’t, without qualification, both be true. So I do qualify them. What I affirm is that

1´´. God exists timelessly sans creation and temporally since the moment of creation.

Such a nuanced view is not explicitly contradictory.

So is my (1´´) inconsistent with (2) and (3)? I can’t see that it is. Time begins at the moment of creation (which needn’t be an instantaneous point—I leave that an open question), and that is the moment at which God causes the universe to exist and the first moment of time at which God exists.

So I do not hold, nor does it follow from (1)-(3), that “the point at which God is timeless is simultaneous with creation.” I don’t know why you would ascribe such a belief to me. Are you being misled by certain proponents of divine timelessness who affirm things like “all moments of time are equally real or present to God”? As an A-theorist of time who denies that all events—past, present, and future—are on an ontological par, I explicitly reject this characterization of divine eternity. It is precisely because I reject the notion that all events can be present to God that I think God’s real relation to a temporal world requires His temporality. He can exist atemporally only if there is no temporal world. His decision to create a temporal world is a decision to exist temporally.

You interpret my view to imply that “There is no point at which God is actually timeless--rather, God is only hypothetically timeless.” This is incorrect. I don’t know what “hypothetically timeless” means (“possibly timeless,” perhaps?), but my view is that the actual world includes a state of affairs in which God exists completely alone, sans creation, and that state is timeless. There’s nothing hypothetical about it. I myself don’t use the language of “a point,” but I suppose you could say that that state is geometrically like a point in that it has no extension. We just have to be careful lest we be understood to be talking about a point of time. So understood, there certainly is no point of time at which God is timeless! We shall engender less confusion if we say that there is a state of affairs in which God exists timelessly.

Again, your inference “Since there is no point at which God is actually timeless, I think we are forced to say: God actually began to exist--just as the universe (which at no point is timeless) began to exist” is unwarranted. There is a state of affairs in the actual world in which God exists timelessly sans creation. That state is causally, but not temporally, prior to creation in the sense that the being who exists in such a state brings the universe into being by an exercise of His causal power. When does He do so? At the moment of creation, of course!

Here is my explication of the locution “begins to exist,” where “x” ranges over any entity and “t” ranges over times, whether instants or moments of non-zero finite duration:

A. x begins to exist at t iff x comes into being at t.

B. x comes into being at t iff (i) x exists at t, and the actual world includes no state of affairs in which x exists timelessly, (ii) t is either the first time at which x exists or is separated from any t' < t at which x existed by an interval during which x does not exist, and (iii) x’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

Since God fails to meet condition (i) of (B), He cannot be said to begin to exist at t, for He does not come into being at t.

Since this position seems perfectly coherent, we’re not forced into your odd, unorthodox solution. In saying that the Father is timeless, the Son is temporal, and the Father simultaneously causes the Son, you drive your perceived contradiction into the very being of God. We’ve already agreed that a timeless being cannot (on an A-theory of time) be the cause of a temporal being, much less the simultaneous cause, for then they would have to exist at the same time. In saying that the Son is not eternal, I hope you don’t mean that he began to exist, for then the Son is not God but a creature which God the Father has made, since God is essentially necessary and eternal and exists a se. The doctrine of the emanation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit is that these are eternal relations within the Godhead. Moreover, on your view the Father is not omniscient, so I can’t see that any of the persons of the Trinity are divine on such a view.