April 09, 2012
God, Time, and Creation
Thank you for all your scholarly work in defense of the Faith and expansion of the Kingdom of God.
I am a youth pastor teaching my students the essentials of Christian doctrine every Sunday morning and have enjoyed every minute of it - they too are learning and enjoying.
As a resource I have been trying to utilize your Defenders podcasts on Christian doctrine as well as several other systematic theology and doctrine works for my class to craft worksheets and handouts to help them grapple with the more theological and philosophical concerns. We have finished up Doctrine of Revelation and are now in week 4 of the Doctrine of God.
In the doctrine of God I have come to God's relation to time and eternity and was wanting to see if you could address a few concerns that are popping up. I have come across a excerpt from a certain systematic theology book that affirms,
"It is...worthy of note that it is...incoherent to speak of God being eternal before creation and temporal after creation. For a theist, creating the world does not change the nature of God. The world is not created ex deo ('out of God'); that is pantheism. And for theism, the world is created ex nihilo ('out of nothing'). Consequently, God does not change 'internally,' that is, in His essence, by creating something else. The only thing that changes is 'external,' the relationship of the world to Him. Prior to creation, the world has no relationship to God, since it did not exist. At creation and after, God became 'Creator' for the first time...Prior to creation, He was God, but not Creator. That is, at creation God gained a new relationship, but not any new attributes. He did not change in His essence, but in His external activity...[The divine temporality argument] assumes that to act in time is to be temporal. It does not demonstrate that the Actor is temporal; only that His acts are temporal. Classical theists do not deny that God's actions are temporal--they only insist that God's attributes are not temporal."
From listening and reading your work I understand that you hold to the position that God is eternal without creation and temporal subsequent to creation. My question, "Is it not possible that God can remain eternal while His ACTS are seen temporally?" What assume that simply acting that He must becoming "wholly" spatially and temporally located?
An example of what I am trying to get across: A person could take a stamp with a date and press it on a piece of paper. While the stamped date is fixed with that specific date - we have a time at which something occurred - the stamper is not necessarily contained (trying not to use emotionally laden terms like "trapped") to that stamped time. Right?
I am trying to make sense of this. Why would God simply acting in time fix Him to time? Further is it not even possible or probable that a model of some divine hyper time could not actually be (even possibly formulated in the future) and we are simply limited in fully grasping a concept like eternity?
I’m thrilled that you’re finding our Defenders podcasts useful, Michael! You will certainly be equipping your students to think hard about their Christian faith.
The answer to your question will depend, I think, on which view of time you adopt: a tensed view (A-theory) or a tenseless view (B-theory). According to the B-theory of time, there is no mind-independent temporal becoming; all events in time are equally real, just as every inch on a yardstick is equally real. On this view, it’s easy to see how God can exist outside of time and His acts be located at various points in time. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that God has just one multi-faceted timeless action and its effects occur at various points in time. It would be like a 3-dimensional person’s simultaneously producing effects at various places in 2-dimensional Flatland. Since the whole 4-dimensional spacetime “block” co-exists tenselessly with God, God never comes into a new relation to it, and His effects in it need not be produced by successive actions on His part.
Contrast the A-theory. According to this view, temporal becoming is real, and events in time are not all on an ontological par. God cannot be tenselessly causing future events or else they would exist at their future co-ordinates, which on an A-theory they do not. Your analogy of the stamper is not really relevant. It just amounts to saying that someone can stamp a false date. The relevant point is that God cannot tenselessly produce an event at a future date without the event’s existing tenselessly at that date.
The theologian you cite actually gives his case away by admitting that at creation God comes into a new relation to the universe. If something changes in relation to other things, then it has undergone an extrinsic change and so must be in time. For example, if I change in relation to my son from standing in the taller than relation to standing in the shorter than relation, I have not changed intrinsically. Nevertheless, in order to undergo such a relational change, I must be in time. There was a time when I stood in one relation and then another time at which I stood in the other relation.
Thomas Aquinas recognized that God’s undergoing even such an extrinsic change would be sufficient to render God temporal, and he avoided this conclusion only by adopting the very problematic doctrine that while creatures are really related to God, God is not really related to creatures (see discussion in my Time and Eternity).
So it is not quite right to say that “[The divine temporality argument] assumes that to act in time is to be temporal.” Rather it holds that if an A-theory of time is true, then to act in time is to be temporal.
It is futile to try to avoid this argument by positing a higher hyper-time in which God produces all events in our time. For then the whole debate just replays itself on the hyper-level. Is hyper-time a tensed time or is it a tenseless time? The same conclusions will follow, and nothing has been gained by kicking the debate upstairs.