05 / 06
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More Questions on God and Time

April 19, 2011     Time: 00:17:58
More Questions on God and Time

Transcript More Questions on God and Time


Kevin Harris: Hi there. Welcome to the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. And, yes, we do have a lot to say about the amazing debates that have taken place lately—Sam Harris debate; did a debate with Lawrence Krauss. There has just been a huge amount of talk that has come out of these debates, and it shows that they were very significant. So stay close. Very soon we're going to get Dr. Craig in the studio, and he has a lot to say about these recent events. In the meantime Dr. Craig and I were in the studio addressing some questions that you have sent in, including some very difficult questions on time. Let's go there now.

This first question says:

Dr. Craig, I've read many of your works on time and divine eternality. While you have persuaded me that God became temporal with creation in virtue of his real relation to creation, I do not understand why the act of creation drew God into time, but not into space. If God must exist in time to act in time why doesn't he need to exist in space to act in space? You address this, saying,

The analogy breaks down precisely because space is not tensed. Hence, God can create spatial things without entering into spatial relations with them (He does not have to be here to create things here); but some explanation is required for how God can create temporal things without entering into temporal relations with them (how He sustains things now without existing now)[1]

Could you elaborate on the difference because it's not clear to me how the tensed nature of time requires that God be temporal to act within it, but the localized nature of space does not require that God be spatial to act within it. It seems to me that just as God has to be in time to act in time, God would have to be in space to act in space.

How about that?

Dr. Craig: I wonder if he understands the argument for divine temporality, because if he understood it then I can't imagine why he would think that in order to act in space God would have to be in space. The contrast isn't between time being tensed and space be localized, as he put it, but that space unlike time doesn't have this feature of temporal becoming connected with it, or any kind of objective “hereness” or “thereness”—that's just a perspectival feature of things in space. So, let me run by the arguments for why creating time would plausibly require God to be temporal.

The first one would be from the very nature of tense; that there are tensed facts like “something is occurring now.” In order to cause something to happen now there would need to be a relationship – a causal relationship – between God and that entity that is now occurring. And if tense is an objective feature of reality that reality doesn’t exist until it comes into being. It comes into being and then goes out of being. If time were stretched out on a line, like space, then God could exist off of the line, so to speak, looking down on the line, and could create any point on the line. But if the points on the line are coming into and going out of being constantly then the only time at which he can create that one point is at the point at which that time exists. And therefore he would have to be simultaneous with that time, and therefore in time. So it seems to me that the only way that something could have a causal relationship with something that is in this kind of dynamic tensed time would be to exist at the same time as the event.

The other reason I think God would be temporal in virtue of creating the world is because his knowledge would be constantly changing because facts would be constantly changing. It would be true that x is now occurring, then it would be true that x has occurred. And in order to be omniscient his knowledge would constantly need to be keeping track of this rollover, so to speak, in the truth value of propositions as present tensed versions become true and then they become false, and the past tensed versions switch from being false to being true. And so that would require God's knowledge to be constantly changing.

Well, now, clearly neither of those factors plays any role with respect to points in space. [2]

Kevin Harris: So as the truth value of an event changes, God's knowledge corresponds to that.

Dr. Craig: Yes, his knowledge would change as the truth value of these propositions change. And so that would mean that God would be drawn into time since he's changing (his knowledge would be constantly changing). But with regard to space, you see, if space exists all of the points exist in space, and you don't have to be in space in order to be causing all of the points in space to exist. God could exist, so to speak, outside of space. He could transcend space and just cause all of the spatial points to come into being. God doesn’t need to be in space as though he had to push or pull or bump up against some entity in order for it to exist.

And similarly there isn't any kind of objective here or there in space the way there is an objective now in time. For the people in Phoenix, Phoenix is here; but for the people in Atlanta, Phoenix is there and Atlanta is here. And it doesn’t make any sense to say, “Well, which is really objectively here, Phoenix or Atlanta?” There is no objective here—it's just perspectival. And so for God to create points in space – like those of Phoenix and Atlanta – he doesn't need to be either here or there. He's not drawn into space in virtue if creating space because there is nothing spatial that corresponds to the objective past, present, and future.

So I hope you see the point. I think once you understand the argument for time and why God's creating time would pull him into time, as the reader says he agrees with that, then I just don't see how he can mount a similar argument for space. I mean, suppose I wanted to prove that God is in space, suppose that was my desire—I think that God is omnipresent, and therefor he exists at every point in space. How would such an argument go? How would I argue that in order to create all the points of space God has to be in space? I just can't even think how such an argument would go.

Kevin Harris: Well, the nature of time and space are different.

Dr. Craig: Well, that's certainly true if time is tensed and dynamic. Then they are very, very different.

Kevin Harris: And at any rate God's entering into time would not affect his nature. I mean, it wouldn't change his nature, would it?

Dr. Craig: No, if we conceive his nature to be simply eternal, and that eternity can take two modes—it can either be timeless existence or it can be everlasting existence. And there's certainly – I think this point needs to be added – there's nothing to say that an entity cannot be in time and not in space. A being could be temporal without being spatial. I don't know if that's the reader's difficulty, if he thinks if God is in time then he must also be in space—that's a non sequitur. God could create angelic beings, say, that are unembodied consciousnesses that have a stream of consciousness, and hence are clearly in time, even though they're not in space because they have no bodies. So we can imagine God creating a spirit realm prior to his creating the physical spatial universe, and that spiritual realm could be temporal without being spatial. So there's nothing about being in time that would require God to be in space. So I just don't see any argument that would suggest that God, in order to create space, needs to be in space.

Kevin Harris: We hear so much about the spacetime continuum, and spacetime this and spacetime that. We tend to relate them just in popular language.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that's right. And that's because of physics. In physics physical time is thought of as being one dimension of this four-dimensional geometrical entity called spacetime. But that's just a representational device for space and time. We don't need to invest that with metaphysical reality. And in any case even if we do, God can exist in a metaphysical time that is quite distinct from physical time as our thought experiment concerning angels shows.

Kevin Harris: Similar question from Moscow:

Dr. Craig, my name is Andre, I'm from Russia, from Moscow. I have a question about time and tense. This question is very important for me. Does “now” have a duration? I mean, “now” in the world, not in our minds. What is this duration? One second, one year, one century? If “now” has no duration and every event is in “now,” then there are no events which have a duration. [3]

Dr. Craig: This is a really, really interesting question. I think, frankly, it's the most difficult question confronting the theorist of dynamic or tensed time. And I've written on this both in my books as well as in an article called “The Extent of the Present,” which was published in International Studies in The Philosophy of Science[4] And so if Andre can get a hold of those books or journals he'll find lengthy discussions of this very difficult question of the extent of the present or the duration of the now.

As Andre indicates, in psychological time, in consciousness, there is such a thing called the specious present which endures up to, say, three seconds in length for some people, and can be very short in other cases. But that's just psychological time, that's not time itself. The question is, is time composed of instants, or is there a duration to the now? And here, boy, arguments pro and con could be floated about this issue. For example, I don't think Andre is right in saying that if time is composed of durationless instants – that is to say, instants of zero duration – they would be like points of space of zero extent (they would be the analogy to points in space). And in geometry a line is thought to be a composition of points, each of which has zero extension. But that would no more imply that events are durationless than it would imply that there are no such thing as lengths. You can still have one inch lengths, and the length of this table, for example, can be eight feet, or the height of a person is still meaningful to talk about.

Similarly one could still talk about the duration of events. How long did the Second World War last? How long was the race? How long was the second session of Congress? All of those questions would still be meaningful, and you can assign limits to those. But the “now,” on this view, would be a durationless instant.

My difficulty with that view is that I can't make sense of temporal becoming because instants have no immediate successors. Between any two instants there's always another one that you can pick, and therefore it wouldn’t make any sense to talk about temporal becoming proceeding instant by instant because instants have no immediate successor. So that's my reservation about thinking that time as composed of durationless instants.

Now, suppose instead, then, we take the view that the “now” does have a certain non-zero finite extent. In that case time would be composed of little time atoms and these would be incapable of further division. Well, the difficulty with this, although it's possible, is that it would mean that temporal becoming precedes by fits and starts. Reality is sort of jumpy, it jumps ahead, rather like the way a movie does. In a film you have these separate frames, and the separate frames involve jumps in the action from one to the next. But when the film is shown they go by so quickly that you can't discern the discontinuities.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, it's smooth.

Dr. Craig: It looks smooth but it's not really smooth—it's jumpy. And that's the way reality would be; reality would be sort of jumpy in that way. And that's very hard to imagine.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, because it's not celluloid on a sprocket.

Dr. Craig: Right, and it's very hard to imagine how something could go from point A to point B without traversing the points in between. How does it just sort of jump the distance and just kind of disappear at A and appear at B? That's really strange. But some quantum theorists are willing to embrace this sort of view of time—that time is composed of little time atoms called chronons, which are these little indivisible units of time. But, again, I find that to be very counter-intuitive and bizarre because of the jumpiness.

So the view that I have suggested is the following: that “now” is not a metric concept, and therefore it doesn’t have any intrinsic duration. When we talk about what is happening now we always have to specify the unit of time, or the metric, or the event of which we are speaking. So, for example, it makes sense to talk about the present century, or the present hour, or the present second. [5] It makes sense to talk about the present session of Congress, or the present Supreme Court sitting. And these will have different durations depending on what the word “present” is modifying.

And so I would suggest that there is no such thing as “the now” in terms of picking out a sort of intrinsic unit of duration. Rather, it's ambiguous, and what is now will depend upon the event or the unit that you're characterizing as being now. And when you pick a duration, like the present war, that will be composed of phases that can be delineated as the past phrase, the present phase, and the next phase to come, and those could be subdivided ad infinitum. But those are simply conceptual divisions that we make in the event. I want to say that apart from these conceptual divisions we make that time isn't really composed of points or instants at all. Rather instants are mathematical fictions that we make up when we want to denominate a specific point or instance in time. I would say the same about the geometrical line. I don't think the geometrical line is literally a composition of points. Rather we can denominate points on the line when we want to specify distances, for example. But I would say the line as a whole is logically prior to any of the divisions that we want to make in it. And similarly the event or the unit that we specify in time is logically prior to any subdivisions that we want to make of it. And so that's the best sense that I can make of this difficult question: there is no such thing as “the extent of the now or the present,” rather this is an ambiguous term that can be applied variously to different events and measures.

Kevin Harris: We have to denominate it; we have to specify it.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: I can see how this would be more difficult, perhaps, on the A-theory of time, of temporal becoming.

Dr. Craig: Oh, exactly. This is the biggest difficulty, I think, the tensed-time theorist faces.

Kevin Harris: Now, if you had a B-theory you could say, “Okay, it's all there,” and you can just say, “Here's the 'now.'”

Dr. Craig: Exactly, then there's no problem—it just is like a line.

Kevin Harris: Well, we're out of time. [laughter] Rewind this if you'd like to listen to this some more. And also get Dr. Craig's book Time and Eternity. It's available at And we'll see you next time[6]