Questions on Time and Scary Monsters

Questions on Time and Scary Monsters

Dr. Craig fields questions on God and time and an ontological argument on the "scariest possible monster"!


Transcript Questions on Time and Scary Monsters

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, let's pick up some questions that we've received at Reasonable Faith. This one says,

Dr. Craig, I am a former Christian who has long since left the faith and is somewhat familiar with your arguments defending the existence of God. I don't find any of your arguments to be convincing or compelling but my favorite arguments of yours are the teleological and kalam cosmological arguments – the ones that I think aren't as bad as the rest.

Dr. Craig: [laughter] That is sort of a backhanded compliment, isn't it?

Kevin Harris: He says,

I do have some questions about God's timelessness – a property or lack of – that you have deduced due to the kalam argument. If God is timeless, when has he existed? Has he existed in the present? Did he exist at some time in the past? Will he exist at some time in the future? Has he ever existed? Has he always existed for an infinite amount of time and will continue to exist for an infinite amount of time? It sounds to me that the only way to be consistent with the concept of a timeless God is to say he has never existed/he never exists. If you say that he exists at any time – past, present, future – or always at all times, doesn't that mean you are talking about a temporal being and not a timeless one? I have also heard you argue that God is both timeless and temporal. How is this so? I would love to here from you. Danny.

Dr. Craig: OK. I appreciate this series of very interesting questions from Danny. I really hope that he will find in God a source of intellectual challenge and richness that will perhaps draw him back to the Christian faith that he once held. Let's take these questions one at a time.

He says, “If God is timeless, when has he existed?” Well, clearly, if God is timeless then he has not existed at any time. To say that a being exists timelessly is to say that it exists but that it does not exist at any time. This would be a being which transcends time. It doesn't exist in the temporal dimension.

Now he asks, “Does God exist in the present?” That, of course, depends upon your view. My view is that, yes, God does exist in the present. He exists right now, and that is literally true. God now exists at the present moment.

Danny says, “Did he exist at some time in the past?” Yes, I would say that God has existed at every past time. For any time prior to the present that you could pick, God existed at that time.

He asks, “Will he exist at some time in the future?” Yes. I think that God will exist tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and so on to potential infinity. God will exist at every future time that there is.

“Has God ever existed?” Yes. As I said, I think God has existed for all of past time, so yes, God has ever existed.

He asks, “Has he always existed for an infinite amount of time and will continue to exist for an infinite amount of time?” Those are two separate questions. Let's take the past first. Has God always existed for an infinite amount of time? I would say no because I don't think that past time is infinite. If the past is finite – if time itself had a beginning – then God has existed at every moment in the past, but he has not existed for infinity (or from eternity past) because time is finite. If time had a beginning and God has existed at every moment of time then God has not existed for infinite time. Will God continue to exist for an infinite amount of time? Here I would say yes. Because the future on my view is merely a realm of potentiality and not actuality, it will go one toward infinity as a limit. It never actually reaches infinity. God will never have existed for an infinite number of years, but he will live forever. For any moment of future time you pick, God will exist at that time. So, in that sense, God will exist infinitely in a potential sense into the future, but he will never have existed for an actually infinite number of time because this future infinity is merely potential.[1] It is simply a limit and not an actual moment of time.

Danny says, “It seems to me that the only way to be consistent with the concept of a timeless God is to say that he never existed or never exists.” At first I thought he was simply contradicting himself because if God does not exist at all then that isn't the same as saying he exists timelessly. If God exists but doesn't exist at any time then he does exist but he doesn't exist in time. But I think here Danny is emphasizing the word “never” to say that if God is timeless then he has not existed at any time. He does not exist at any time, and in that sense he never exists. I would say that is right. If God is simply timeless without qualification then paradoxically God never exists. But that doesn't mean God doesn't exist. It just means he doesn't exist at any time. But he exists.

Kevin Harris: When you use “never” that is pregnant with temporality.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. I think that is the way he means it. Unfortunately, very often we use the word “never” not in that temporal sense but more as a superlative – to mean “not at all.” That wouldn't be accurate. So only if you emphasize, as you say, the temporal aspect of the word “never” would it be correct to say that a timeless God never exists.

Kevin Harris: When we say “before” quite often, which implies time, we mean logically prior.

Dr. Craig: But not temporally prior. And so many philosophers who believe in the existence of, for example, mathematical objects would say that the number 1 and the number 2 and the number 3 all exist but they exist timelessly. So it would be equally true to say that they never exist. That is to say, they don't exist at any time. But they do exist. They are just as real as you and I are, but we are in time and they are not.

Danny goes on to say, “If you say that God exists at any time – past, present, and future – and always at all times, doesn't that mean you are talking about a temporal being and not a timeless one?” Yes, that is correct. When you talk about God existing always or forever or at any moment of time – past, present, and future – you are talking about a temporal being.

Sometimes laypeople get confused with the word “temporal” and “temporary.” We are not saying that God exists temporarily – just for a finite stretch of time. God would always exist. He would exist for whatever time there is. So he would be temporal, but not temporary.

Kevin Harris: I really had to come to know terms and really study them when looking at this fascinating area – temporality, tenseless, tensed.

Dr. Craig: And that will come up in the next question we are going to talk about, won't it? I agree with you, Kevin. After the subject of God himself, I find time to be the most philosophically intriguing subject that there is.

Danny's final comment is, “I have also heard you argue that God is both timeless and temporal. How is this so?” This would appear to be a logical contradiction, right? To be temporal means to be in time. To be timeless means not to be temporal. So these would appear to be logically contradictory. That would be right if you simply assert that God is timeless and temporal without any qualification. You would need to add a qualification to make this not self-contradictory. It would be like saying some object is both black and not black. That is a self-contradiction unless I add, “It is black at one time, but it is not black at another time.” Or if I say, “It is black on one side, but it is not black on the other side. It is white on one side and black on the other side.” You add a qualification so that the contradiction is removed.[2] And that is what I do with my view of God and time. As a result of spending eleven years devoted to the subject of God and time full time, I came to the view that the best understanding of God's relationship to time is that God is timeless sans creation and temporal subsequent to creation. What does that mean? That means that God, insofar as he exists alone without the universe, exists timelessly. He hasn't created time or space or the universe in the state of affairs in which God exists alone. So God exists alone timelessly sans the universe – without the universe. He creates the universe at the first moment of time. At that moment, in virtue of his causal relationship with the universe, God becomes temporal. So God is in time from the moment of creation on into the future. God is timeless sans creation and in time subsequent to creation. Although this is a strange view, an admittedly odd view, I actually think that it makes the most sense, and I've never heard a good philosophical objection to it.

Kevin Harris: Another question on time:

Dear Dr. Craig, I have been considering various causal cosmological arguments and I've come across a problem that poses a challenge to the A-theory of time, and by extension the kalam cosmological argument. This has to do with God's metaphysical necessity. Something is metaphysically necessary only if it cannot be any other way. This is why the universe can't be metaphysically necessary because it could have been a variety of different ways or not even had existed at all. However, if God can't be any other way than he is due to his metaphysical necessity, does this not prohibit the possibility of his being timeless and then entering into time? I have a feeling this is simply one of those things that are only superficially problematic and that further analysis will solve them so I would be interested in your feedback. In Christ, Dan.

Dr. Craig: It is interesting that both of our questioners are named Dan and have questions about God and time. I think that this problem is easily solved.

When theists say that God is metaphysically necessary, they typically mean that he is metaphysically necessary in his existence. Dan is quite right. That means that God could not have failed to exist. God exists necessarily. Similarly, God has certain essential properties which could not have been different. For example, God is omnipotent. God is omniscient. God is eternal. These are essential properties of God.

But theists would generally hold that not all of God's properties are essential to him and therefore metaphysically necessary. Take omniscience, for example. It is metaphysically necessary and essential to God that God know only and all truths. For any truth, God knows that truth and he does not believe any falsehood. That property is essential to God. But in different possible worlds there are different truths. So in different worlds God will be different by knowing different things. In one world he knows that Kevin Harris exists. But in another world, he knows that Kevin Harris does not exist because those are contingent truths that vary from world to world. So although God's basic attribute is essential to him and therefore metaphysically necessary, nevertheless the content of his attribute of omniscience is contingent and will vary from world to world.

Similarly, with respect to divine eternity, what is essential to God is that God is permanent in his existence. That is to say, he never came into being and will never go out of being. That is essential and therefore metaphysically necessary to God. But the mode of his eternity is contingent.[3] I think there are worlds in which God remains changelessly alone and never creates a world. In such a world, God would be timeless. But we can imagine another possible world in which God is intimately related to and involved with a temporal creation. In such a world God would be in time. So the property of being timeless or temporal is a contingent property of God. What is essential to God and metaphysically necessary is that he be eternal, permanent in his existence – neither come into nor go out of being. But the way in which he does that is contingent and can vary from world to world. If this is a contingent property of God then, as I say, there is no incoherence in the view that God existing alone sans creation is timeless but he is temporal subsequent to the moment of creation.

Kevin Harris: Is there another example you can give us of one of God's contingencies – something contingent about God?

Dr. Craig: Well, in addition to what God knows, what God does. It is essential to God that he be omnipotent, for example – able to do anything that is logically possible. But what he actually does will vary from world to world. So in different worlds he has, for example, the property of causing the universe or co-existing with the universe. But in worlds in which he refrains from creation, God doesn't have that property of causing the universe.

Kevin Harris: So you are distinguishing the nature of God (which is necessary) from properties that God may have, some of which are contingent.

Dr. Craig: That is exactly right. Not all of God's properties should be thought to be essential properties. He has, in addition to essential properties, contingent properties. I would say that his mode of his existence in terms of whether it is timeless or temporal would be one of these contingent features.

Kevin Harris: One more question, Dr. Craig. This is on the ontological argument. We get a lot of these.

Dr. Craig, I can use your ontological argument to prove that the ultimate scary monster exists.

1. It is possible that an all-surpassingly scary monster exists. That is a being more terrifying than which nothing can be conceived. In other words, an all-surpassingly scary being exists in some possible world.

2. If an all-surpassingly scary monster exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. A monster with the ability to travel between the real and imaginary worlds is scarier than one that can't.

3. If an all-surpassingly scary monster exists in every possible world then it exists in the actual world. Since the actual world is clearly a possible world and because monsters that exist are automatically scarier than monsters that don't, so any monster that doesn't exist can't be all-surpassingly scary.

4. If an all-surpassingly scary monster exists in the actual world then an all-surpassingly scary monster actually exists.

My premises are no less demonstrable than yours. The logic is identical.

Dr. Craig: Right. OK, this is a strategy for refuting the ontological argument which is based upon providing a parody of the argument for an obviously false conclusion. You try to pick some absurd notion which no one believes in and then show that you can parody the ontological argument for arguing for the reality of this absurd thing. So somehow the ontological argument must be wrong even if you haven't been able to point out where it goes astray.

Kevin Harris: Is this a legitimate tool – parodying something? Can you parody an argument to show it doesn't go through?

Dr. Craig: Yes. I think so. I think that is a good strategy. One wouldn't be able to identify where the argument goes wrong, but by constructing a parody you could show that it must go wrong somewhere even though I haven't been able to identify the mistake. But it is a risky strategy because the proponent of the original argument has merely to show a dis-analogy between your parody and his argument to defeat it because you haven't identified any fallacy or flaw in the original argument. You just try to construct a parallel argument. If it is not parallel then your objection is no good. And that is the case with this parody, as I think it is with all other attempts to parody the ontological argument.

In order to be a successful parody you have to be able to construct a concept or a notion that is logically coherent. If it is logically incoherent then it doesn't exist in any possible world, much less every one.[4] So if your pretended entity or fantasy turns out to be logically incoherent your parody fails. That was a problem with Richard Dawkins' parody of the ontological argument where he said a being that creates the world in a world in which he doesn't exist is greater. That is a logical incoherence. There is no possible world in which there exists a being that doesn't exist and creates the world. So it wasn't a good parody. But exactly the same thing is true here of the all-surpassingly scary monster. In order to be a coherent notion he says in premise (2) that this monster must have the ability to travel between the real and imaginary worlds. That is logical incoherent. These other possible worlds are not things that a person can travel to. These aren't like planets or universes in a multiverse or something like that. There is no travel between possible worlds and the actual world. So it turns out that the notion of an all-surpassingly scary monster so defined fails to be coherent. So the first premise fails that it is possible that such a thing exists.

But let's try to amend the argument in a spirit of sympathy to try to see if we can improve upon the parody. Let's instead say that this is not a monster that can travel between possible worlds. Let's say that it is metaphysically necessary. I think there would be some plausibility to say that a monster is scarier if it is metaphysically necessary than if it is just contingent. Maybe that contributes to scariness, although I guess that could be challenged. Even then is this really a coherent notion? I don't think so. For one thing, it is not clear that there can be such a thing as an all-surpassingly scary monster. For any level of scariness that you reach, one could imagine something even scarier – even worse. So it is not evident that this is a coherent notion that there is a maximally scary monster. Worse, however, such a scary monster would have to exist in worlds in which, for example, the entire universe consists of a singularity of infinite density and space-time curvature. And anything that could exist in such a state just is not a monster. A monster is some sort of a beast or organism with teeth and things like that that would frighten you. But anything that could exist in a universe like that just doesn't count as a monster. So I don't think we have any reason at all to think that a metaphysically necessary, all-surpassingly scary monster is a coherent idea and therefore that it possibly exists.

Kevin Harris: A monster is a monstrosity. And a monstrosity is a combining of unpleasant characteristics or something? What would you say? Frankenstein's monster was pieced together into something very horrible, according to the book.

Dr. Craig: So he is going to have to ultimately wind up equivocating on terms because a monster just doesn't fit the kind of description that I gave of a metaphysically necessary being.

Kevin Harris: I'll ask you this, too, Bill. Does the fact that you can always think of a scarier monster eliminate that because I thought that one of the premises of the ontological argument is that if you can conceive of a greater being then that would be God. So don't you have the same infinite problem on both sides?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think so. Unless you appeal to maybe a monster that is just very scary but he is not maximally scary, but he does have metaphysical necessity – a metaphysically necessary but finitely scary monster. There is just no reason to think that such a thing is a logical possibility, that it is coherent. It is not enough to say that such a thing contingently exists. You'd have to say that it is metaphysically necessary, and that I think, is very implausible.[5]



[1] 5:13

[2] 10:03

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:11

[5] Total Running Time: 25:17 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)