March 31, 2013
God’s Creation of Time
Dear Dr. Craig,
One common objection (e.g., Grünbaum) to your view of the universe's beginning is that the moment of creation cannot be "before" the universe's actualization, since that already presupposes the time of the universe. In response, you've proposed that perhaps the moment of creation of the universe was simultaneous with the universe's beginning, thus no longer needing a "before".
But our notion of what it is for an event to be simultaneous with another event can only make sense within an already existing space and time (irrespective of whether simultaneity is taken here as absolute or relative).
So to talk of space and time itself as being in a simultaneous relationship with a cause or moment of creation (as if space and time is a spatio-temporal thing or event itself) seems unintelligible. Our notion of simultaneity, or coincidence, and even our notion of what it is for something to be an event, surely can only make sense within an already existing space and time.
Lastly, if one claims that perhaps the property of simultaneity itself also begins at the SAME TIME (or "simultaneous") with the universe's beginning and its cause, then one would seem require a second-order simultaneity, which again seems unintelligible.
How would you address this difficulty?
This objection is essentially Brian Leftow’s seventh argument in his Time and Eternity for God’s existing timelessly, and I have responded to it in the opening chapter of my book God, Time, and Eternity.1
The fundamental shortcoming of this objection is its assumption that “what it is for an event to be simultaneous with another event can only make sense within an already existing space and time.” Philosophers have distinguished between substantival and relational theories of time. According to a substantival view of time, time exists independently of and explanatorily prior to any events that occur in time. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that prior to God’s creation of the universe there was an empty time, devoid of events, at some moment of which God created the physical universe. By contrast, according to a relational view of time, time is dependent upon and explanatorily posterior to the occurrence of events. The reason time exists is because of the occurrence of events. In the utter absence of any events, there would not be an empty time; rather there would be no time at all. For that reason Gottfried Leibniz, who opposed Newton, held that there simply is no time prior to the creation of the universe. Time begins at the moment of creation, and it is meaningless to ask, “Why didn’t God create the world sooner?”
The key assumption underlying your objection presupposes the truth of the substantival view of time. For it assumes that time is explanatorily prior to the occurrence of events. It assumes that in order for events to occur, time must, so to speak, already be there. But on a relational view that is false. Time exists because the events occur. The happening of events is explanatorily prior to the existence of time.
So on a relational view of time, God existing changelessly sans creation would be timeless. As Leibniz rightly saw, time comes into existence with the occurrence of the first event, God’s act of creation. Time begins to exist because an event occurs.
So your objection must presuppose the untenability of a relational view of time. But such a view seems perfectly coherent and is widely held today. So the objection is based on an assumption which the theist is free to reject.
1 God, Time and Eternity (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), pp. 19-23; cf. Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity, Cornell Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 273-4.