Divine Eternity

Divine Eternity

Articles exploring God’s relationship to time with a view toward determining whether divine eternity should be construed timelessly or temporally.


Response to McCall and Balashov

This paper is an unpublished response to Yuri Balashov and Storrs McCall which was presented at a session of the Philosophy of Time Society devoted to Dr. Craig's Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity (2001). Dr. Craig responds to criticisms offered by Balashov and Jensen as well as McCall of his defense of a neo-Lorentzian interpretation of the equations of the Special Theory of Relativity.

Divine Eternity

Philosophical theologians have been sharply divided with respect to God's relationship to time. What are the principal arguments which they have offered for divine timelessness and temporality?

"Divine Eternity." In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, pp. 145-66. Ed. Thomas Flint and Michael Rea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. By permission of Oxford University Press, Inc. www.oup.com

Omniscience, Tensed Facts, and Divine Eternity

A difficulty for a view of divine eternity as timelessness is that if time is tensed, then God, in virtue of His omniscience, must know tensed facts. But tensed facts, such as It is now t, can only be known by a temporally located being.

Defenders of divine atemporality may attempt to escape the force of this argument by contending either that a timeless being can know tensed facts or else that ignorance of tensed facts is compatible with divine omniscience. Kvanvig, Wierenga, and Leftow adopt both of these strategies in their various defenses of divine timelessness. Their respective solutions are analyzed in detail and shown to be untenable.

Thus, if the theist holds to a tensed view of time, he should construe divine eternity in terms of omnitemporality.

"Omniscience, Tensed Facts, and Divine Eternity." Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 225–241

God and the Beginning of Time

Leibniz's question to Clarke, "Why Did God Not Create the Word Sooner?" posses a difficult problem for theists holding to a neo-Newtonian view that God is omnitemporal and that time is beginningless. Kant's escape route—denying that the universe began to exist—is rendered implausible by contemporary cosmology. Unless we are prepared to say that the universe popped into being uncaused, we must face Leibniz's conundrum.

Leibniz's argument, when properly formulated, leads to the conclusion that time began to exist. The individual premisees are examined and found to be plausible.

But if time therefore began to exist, how is God's relation to the beginning of time to be construed? It is argued that God is plausibly timeless sans the universe and temporal with the universe. This paradoxical conclusion is defended against objections.

"God and the Beginning of Time." International Philosophical Quarterly 41 (2001): 17-31.

The Eternal Present and Stump-Kretzmann Eternity

A classic difficulty of the conception of divine eternity as timelessness is that it seems impossible for an atemporal deity to be causally active in the world. Stump and Kretzmann, in their seminal article "Eternity," claimed to be able to resolve this problem by formulating a new species of simultaneity, viz., eternal-temporal simultaneity. Although their proposal has received extensive criticism, little has been said concerning the notion of the "eternal present" which underlies their analysis. It is argued that apart from construing divine eternity as a sort of embedding hyper-time, it does not seem possible to make sense of Stump and Kretzmann's description of the eternal present.

Source: American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 73 (1999): 521-536.

Timelessness and Omnitemporality

How shall we construe divine eternity and God's relationship to time? The view that God is simply timeless faces two insuperable difficulties: (1) an atemporal deity cannot be causally related to the temporal world, if temporal becoming is real, and (2) timelessness is incompatible with divine omniscience, if there are tensed facts about the world. On the other hand, we have good reasons to think that time and the universe had a beginning. Therefore, God cannot be infinitely temporal in the past. Perhaps we could say that God sans the universe existed in a topologically amorphous time in which temporally ordered intervals could not be distinguished. But such a state is not different from a state of timelessness. Therefore, the best understanding of eternity and time is that God is timeless sans creation and temporal since creation.

Source: Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000, pp. 29-33.

On the Alleged Metaphysical Superiority of Timelessness

Brian Leftow argues that timeless beings are metaphysically superior to temporal beings in view of their truer presence and unity. Leftow's argument that a timeless being has truer presence is based on a systematic misconstruction of tensed vs. tenseless theories of time, which invalidates his argument. Leftow's argument that temporal beings have less unity is based on a misunderstanding and reductionistic interpretation of the Special Theory of Relativity. Whether one adopts a presentist or non-presentist ontology, Leftow's further claim that temporal beings do not have their existence all at once is erroneous.

"On the Alleged Metaphysical Superiority of Timelessness." Sophia 37 (1998): 1-9.

Divine Timelessness and Personhood

Detractors of the doctrine of divine timelessness argue that
     1. God is timeless
     2. God is personal
are broadly logically incompatible on the basis of the following necessarily true premises
     3. If God is timeless, He does not exemplify properties x, y, z
     4. If God does not exemplify properties x, y, z, He is not personal
where x, y, z are replaced by certain specified properties.

For clarity's sake, consider God existing alone sans a temporal creation. Could He in such a state be timeless and exemplify the properties essential to personhood? I show that God could, in fact, do so, whether one adopts criteria for personhood based on states of consciousness, intentionality, or capacity for inter-personal relations. Thus, on a plausible construal of (4), it turns out that (3) is not necessarily true, and thus the argument fails.

"Divine Timelessness and Personhood." International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 43 (1998): 109-124.

The Special Theory of Relativity and Theories of Divine Eternity

Contemporary analyses of divine eternity often make explicit appeal to to the Special Theory of Relativity in support of the doctrine of divine timelessness. For example, two fundamental tenets of Leftow's theory, namely, (i) that temporal things exist both in time and in timeless eternity and (ii) that the timeless presence of all things to God in eternity is compatible with objective temporal becoming, depend essentially upon the legitimacy of the application of Einsteinian relativity to temporal events in relation to God. I argue that the first of these rests upon category mistakes, presupposes a reductionist view of time, and seems incompatible with a tensed theory of time. The second involves the same conceptual mistakes, but also hinges upon a particular interpretation of STR which, though widespread, is by no means the most plausible.

Source: "The Special Theory of Relativity and Theories of Divine Eternity." Faith and Philosophy 11 (1994): 19-37.

God, Time and Eternity

Is God's eternity to be construed as timeless or temporal? Given that the universe began to exist, a relational view of time suggests that time also began to exist. God's existence "prior to" or sans creation would not entail the existence of time if God in such a state is changeless. But if God sustains real relations with the world, the co-existence of God and the world imply that God is temporal subsequent to the moment of creation. Given the superiority of a relational over a non-relational (Newtonian) view of time, God ought to be considered as timeless sans creation and temporal subsequent to creation.

Source: "God, Time, and Eternity." Religious Studies 14 (1979): 497-503.

Divine Timelessness and Necessary Existence

Brian Leftow argues that if God is temporal, He is essentially temporal; and that since He is a necessary being, time therefore exists necessarily, but that since time is in fact contingent, God is therefore atemporal. Leftow's arguments for time's contingency are, however, ineffective against the Newtonian, who holds that time and space are emanative effects of God's being. An untenable reductionism vitiates Leftow's claim that God cannot be temporal, yet non-spatial. Leftow's argument that God cannot be contingently temporal is undermined by the coherence of suggested scenarios illustrating such a state of affairs.

One of Brian Leftow's most important arguments for divine atemporality is his argument from God's necessary existence.1 According to Leftow, necessary existence entails timelessness, and, since God must have the perfection of necessary existence, He must therefore be timeless.

"Divine Timelessness and Necessary Existence," International Philosophical Quarterly 37 (1997):  217-224.

Timelessness and Creation

Brian Leftow argues that a temporal God could not be the creator of time and that therefore God should be conceived as timeless. Leftow's first argument, that there is no time at which a temporal God could act to create time fails because God could act at any time t to create t or, alternatively, could act at t in such a way as to be responsible for time existing prior to t. Leftow's second argument, that a temporal God could not have decided at any time t whether time should have a beginning or not fails because Leftow erroneously presupposes that in order for God to be responsible for time's topological properties, there must have been a time at which He made such a decision.

"Timelessness and Creation," Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1996):  646-56

On the Argument for Divine Timelessness from the Incompleteness of Temporal Life

A promising argument for divine timelessness is that temporal life is possessed only moment by moment, which is incompatible with the existence of a perfect being. Since the argument is based on the experience of time's passage, it cannot be circumvented by appeal to a tenseless theory of time. Neither can the argument be subverted by appeals to a temporal deity's possession of a specious present of infinite duration. Nonetheless, because the argument concerns one's experience of time's passage rather than the objective reality of temporal becoming itself, it is considerably weakened by the fact that an omniscient being possessing perfect memory and foreknowledge need not find such experience to be an imperfection.

"On the Argument for Divine Timelessness from the Incompleteness of Temporal Life," Heythrop Journal 38 (1997):  165-171.

A Critique of Grudem's Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity

It is shown how the attempt of one theologian to explicate the doctrine of divine eternity is logically inconsistent and his attempts to defend an atemporal understanding of eternity mistaken.

"A Critique of Grudem's Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Eternity." Philosophia Christi 19 (1996): 33-38.

A Review of Paul Helm's Eternal God

Paul Helm's Eternal God is an important defense of the construal of divine eternity as timeless. I show that Helm's construal presupposes a tenseless (or B-Theory) of time without sufficient justification.

Review: Eternal God, by Paul Helm. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (1993): 254-255.

God and Real Time

Whether God is timeless or temporal depends on whether an A-Theory or B-Theory of time is correct, where the former posits tensed facts and the latter only tenseless facts. Given the superiority of the A-Theory, it follows that God is temporal. But since the Special Theory of Relativity relativizes simultaneity to reference frames, the question arises as to which "now" is God's "now"? In order to answer that question, we must distinguish between time and our measures of time. Relativity concerns only measured time and so does not affect God's real time. How does God's time relate to measured time? Contra Alan Padgett, God's time must coincide with a measured time, most plausibly the cosmic time of the General Theory of Relativity.

"God and Real Time." Religious Studies 26 (1990): 335-347.