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Timeless Questions About Time

December 08, 2014     Time: 18:18
Timeless Questions About Time


Dr. Craig receives some common questions about the nature of time and it's relationship to God

Transcript Timeless Questions About Time


Kevin Harris: We’ve got questions. We answer as many as we can. Be sure that you check out the Question of the Week and the archives as well at[1] You might find that your question for the most part is answered there. In fact, maybe even several times. Let’s look at some other questions that we’ve received, Dr. Craig, that are interacting with your work. These are on time. They ask:

Dr. Craig, Is time the greatest riddle?

He could have stopped there [laughter] but then he goes on. He says,

For example, could God have waited until the present moment to create the universe? I don’t think that question is like trying to make a square-circle. After all, God is a personal agent and our Creator. That means he can do what he wants whenever he wants and is always alive in the present. However, if he could have waited until right now to create rather than 13.7 billion years ago that would imply that God has never been timeless. But that would contradict the impossibility of an infinite physical regression. If God can wait, it implies time.

Dr. Craig: Let’s stop there. It seems to me that the mistake he is making is to think that if God had waited until right now to create that time couldn’t have had a beginning at some time in the finite past. But that, I think, is obviously wrong. Suppose that instead of creating the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago God just created angelic realms and that that was the beginning of time. Then he waited until now to create the universe. It seems to me that is unproblematic. So I would say in answer to his question: yes, God could have waited until the present moment to create the universe. But that doesn’t follow from that, as he thinks, that therefore there is no state of the actual world in which God exists timelessly. If we think of God existing timelessly alone with neither an angelic world nor a physical universe, he is plausibly timeless.

Kevin Harris: He says,

Furthermore, the smallest unit of time is defined as Planck. Therefore if time is made up of Planck moments, why can’t there be half a Planck moment? If Planck is a real amount of time, half of that time should be a real amount of time. This may imply that time is simply an abstract object, a mental construction, or simply a mental measurement. After all, human organs don’t appear and disappear every Planck moment, do they? Dividing moments of time smaller than Planck is like dividing dimensions of space smaller than Planck. Going smaller than Planck has no physical meaning, therefore we are communicating abstractions.

Dr. Craig: It seems to me that these two paragraphs contradict each other. What he is talking about are views of time and space in which time and space are not continuous; that is to say, made up of points between which you can always find another point. Rather, time is made up of little units – little time atoms if you will – and space is made up of little tiny units – atoms of space. These are indivisible, and so time is not continuous. In the first paragraph he says if there are these little Planck times or units, wouldn’t half of that be a real amount of time? No, as he says in the second paragraph, going smaller than these Planck units has no physical meaning. So it would just be an abstraction. If you have a view of reality in which time and space are quantized, that is to say, they are not continuous but are made up of these little time and space units, then it is meaningless to talk about half of that. That is physically impossible. You can’t have a shorter amount of time or a smaller amount of space than that. To think that you could would just be a mathematical abstraction; not something that is real.

Kevin Harris: He concludes his question[2],

I think timelessness of God and his creation is the best explanation of all the evidence. True existence seems to be the eternal “now.” Real time is imaginary; the mind imagines it. Imaginary time is what seems real to the human mind. But the human mind is simply observing motion and changes in the physical universe.

Dr. Craig: I think that is just incoherent to suggest that time is just a subjective illusion of the human mind and then say it is simply observing motion and changes in the physical universe. If time is illusory then there can’t be any motions and changes in the universe because motions and changes imply a before and an after. So really he’d have to be saying the external world is illusory. You are like a body in a matrix inhabiting a virtual reality which just seems bizarre. Why believe such a thing? Even worse than that though, because even the body lying in the Matrix is in time. Does he imagine that we, as well as God, exist timelessly and that this is all just in our imaginations? I think this is a view that is so extreme that it would require an enormously powerful argument to justify embracing it – the idea that time is illusory – and he just doesn’t give any such argument.

Kevin Harris: I’ll chase a quick rabbit, Dr. Craig. Christian laypeople often have the notion that time will come to an end in heaven; that there will be no time in heaven. Some of our hymns have said, “And time shall be no more when we are on that other shore.” This is not an accurate view of time.

Dr. Craig: No, or an accurate view of the immortal state in Judaism and Christianity which is an embodied existence. We will have resurrection bodies. We will not be immortal souls in a sort of timeless Platonic realm. We will be inhabiting a new heavens and a new Earth where we will have physical, powerful, interactive bodies. The idea that time comes to a complete end for us, I think, is a Platonic idea that is very antithetical to the Jewish-Christian faith.

Kevin Harris: When I was in my teens I saw a guy on a religious program on T.V. say he died and went to heaven and came back. He had one of those near-death experiences. He said that there is beautiful music in heaven but none of it had a beat because beat represents time and there is no time in heaven. Well, I don’t want to go if music doesn’t have a beat! Again, that was just a misunderstanding.

Dr. Craig: Yes, there couldn’t be music without time because there would be no change in the melody.

Kevin Harris: Here is another question, Dr. Craig. This has to do with the A- and B-Theory of infinite time. I will refer people to our podcasts on A and B.

Dr. Craig: We better explain that.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, I guess we better. Why don’t you give us the A and B distinction.

Dr. Craig: There are two competing theories of time. According to the B-Theory, all moments in time are equally real, time is stretched out like a spatial line, and temporal becoming (the passage of time) is an illusion of human beings. On the A-Theory of time, all events in time are not equally real. The present is privileged and the future is in no sense real or in no sense exists, and things really do come into being and go out of being as time passes. Those are the two competing views.

Kevin Harris: And you hold to the A-Theory and have defended that quite rigorously.

Dr. Craig: I do.

Kevin Harris: That's the one that makes the most sense. But anyway. He is asking,

If A is true and there is no fixed future and yet the Bible predicts the future, that would seem to indicate there is no human free will because God would have to interject events to maintain the truth of his Word – that is, predictions.

Dr. Craig: That just doesn’t follow at all. Suppose the future doesn’t exist in any sense – it is pure potentiality. Nevertheless, God could know the truth of all future-tensed propositions about what will happen. In virtue of knowing all future-tensed truths he knows the future. That is perfectly consistent with free will. You can also go even a step further and adopt a theory of middle knowledge where you would say that God knows what every person would freely do in any circumstances God might place him in.[3] Therefore, knowing what circumstances God will create in the future and what agents he will place in them, he knows what those agents will do and so he has foreknowledge as a result. So foreknowledge of the future is just an automatic concomitant of middle knowledge. It just comes along for free with the theory. I hold to the view that God has both middle knowledge and foreknowledge, and there is no incompatibility with human free will with that sort of knowledge.

Kevin Harris: He goes on with his question and says,

If the B-Theory of time were true, that would indicate that God at least knows the future and is reporting events that are farther on ahead in time to us. This seems like it allows more free will.

Dr. Craig: It is true that, on the B-Theory, God could report what lies ahead on the time line.

Kevin Harris: Because the future exists and the past still exists on the B-Theory.

Dr. Craig: Right. But there is no reason to think that on such a view that that would allow for more free will. Suppose we live in a causally determined universe where everything is determined by prior causes? God could see what is going to happen in the future and tell us, but that doesn’t mean there would be any freedom to avert it or do otherwise. He is still thinking that on the A-Theory of time that if God has knowledge of the future that somehow that is incompatible with human freedom.

I suspect that what this person’s error is is that he is thinking of foreknowledge of the future on the model of sense-perception – that God looks into the future and sees what is there. Sometimes people will talk about God’s seeing the future or his foresight. I think that is just a completely wrong model of God’s cognition. Foreknowledge shouldn’t be thought of on the model of sense-perception. Rather, God’s knowledge should be thought more along conceptualist lines – namely, that God knows only and all true propositions. There are true propositions about the future – future-tensed propositions – therefore God knows them. It has nothing to do with God looking ahead and seeing what is there in order to know what is in the future. Once you get rid of this perceptualist model of divine cognition you are not going to be tempted to think that God’s foreknowledge requires that the future exists.

Kevin Harris: I think the gist of his question is perhaps the B-Theory of time is more biblical because of fulfilled prophecy (predictive prophecy) that the Bible makes.

Dr. Craig: I take it that he thinks it is more biblical because he says it allows for free will and he thinks the other view doesn’t allow for free will.

Kevin Harris: He says,

If time had a beginning but not an end it seems like continuously more energy would need to be put into the universe system to maintain stability. As other forms of energy become unusable or used up this would contradict the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Dr. Craig: According to contemporary cosmology the universe has a beginning, and if it doesn’t have an end (if it will expand forever) then he is right, it will grind down and there will be less and less usable energy. But as Christians we don’t think that the universe will ever get to such a point because God will bring about the end of the universe as he sees fit at such a time as he deems is appropriate. We believe in the Second Coming of Christ at which time the heavens and Earth will pass away and there will be human beings alive when Christ returns. So even though the universe is headed toward thermodynamic heat death and darkness, desolateness, and destruction, it won’t ever actually arrive at that point because God will bring about the end of the world before that could happen.

Kevin Harris: This question says,

Dear Dr. Craig, I wanted to ask whether God knows an infinite number of propositions. If God knows all true propositions, and the set of all true propositions includes all future-tensed propositions, and that future in heaven will be infinite in duration, then would this mean that there exists an infinite number of future-tensed propositions and that God knows all of them? If so, is this in any way a problem if we assume that an actual infinite cannot exist in reality?

Dr. Craig: It is a good question.[4] As you know, Kevin, we’ve addressed it over and over again, but it just keeps coming up. My view would be that propositions don’t exist. Propositions, if they existed, are abstract objects that exist necessarily. My view is an anti-realist views of abstract objects. I don’t think that they exist. Or if they do exist they would be human creations. It would be something that we bring into being by our conceptualizations. But I think it is easier just to say they don’t exist, and God’s knowledge is non-propositional. God has non-propositional knowledge of all reality. Human knowers break up into propositions (or bits of information) what God knows non-propositionally. An analogy to this would be my visual field. I can see the world out there in my visual field. But what I see could be analyzed in terms of little tiny pixels that would make up my visual field. But in fact I don’t actually see these pixels. That would just be a way of analyzing what I know in a seamless way. In the same way we can express what God knows non-propositionally by breaking it up into propositional bits and expressing it propositionally because we are finite and that’s the way we know.[5]