Doctrine of Creation (Part 5)

September 15, 2012     Time: 00:27:38

We have been talking in recent lessons about the Doctrine of Creation and you’ll remember that I tried to distinguish between creation and conservation by saying that in creation this is God’s original bringing the world into being and conservation is God’s sustaining the world in being moment by moment. I argued that the difference between creation and conservation is not to be found in God or in his action, which is the same in both cases, but rather it is to be found in the object of the action, namely that in creation there is no object. The object is constituted by the act of creation whereas in conservation God acts upon an object which is, as it were, already there to preserve it in being over time.

You’ll recall that I argued that to say God creates some entity e at a time t should be understood to say that God brings it about that e comes into being at t. God creates an entity e at a time t if and only if God brings it about that e comes into being at t. That then raises the question of what does it mean to come into being and I provided the following analysis of what it means to come into being:

e comes into being at t if and only if:

(i) e exists at t.

(ii) t is the first time at which e exists.

(iii) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

Then I distinguished that from conservation by the following:

God conserves e if and only if God acts upon e to bring about e’s existing from some time t until some time t* later than t through every sub-interval in the interval t to t*.

I highlighted the importance of a tensed theory of time for this concept of creation. Clause (iii) says that e’s existing at t is a tensed fact. That is to say e doesn’t exist at t in a sort of tenseless way. That is to say e actually comes into being at t. This is not just a tenseless existing of e at t in a way that, say, an inch exists on a yardstick. Rather, this entity actually comes into being at that moment. This is a tensed fact. So I argued that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo really does presuppose, I think, a tensed theory of time. That is to say, a theory of time according to which all events in time are not on an ontological par. They are not all equally real. Future events don’t, in any sense, exist. Past events no longer exist. What exists is the present. Temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of the world.

Problems With a Tenseless View of Time

Let’s contrast this with a tenseless view of time. Let’s imagine that time is sort of like a block and there are different moments in time that are earlier and later than each other which we can represent by planes that bisect the block. [Dr. Craig draws an illustration on the board – see figure 1]

Figure 1- A tenseless view of time

So we can go here from t1 to t2 to t3 and so forth.[1] And on a tenseless view of time, God just exists outside the space-time block. It has a beginning only in the sense that a yardstick has a beginning; namely, there is a first inch, but it doesn’t really come into being. God acts on all of the events in time in a sort of tenseless way. So this entity exists co-eternally with God in a sense. There is no state of affairs in the actual world which consists of God alone without the universe. My contention is that is not a sufficiently robust Doctrine of Creation to be biblical. The biblical Doctrine of Creation involves the affirmation that there is a state of affairs in the actual world in which just God alone exists and there is no universe or created order existing with him. But then God acts to bring the universe into being at its first moment at t=0. That highlights the fact that a robust biblical Doctrine of Creation, I think, affirms a tensed theory of time according to which the distinction between past, present and future is real, not just subjective, and temporal becoming is real, not just subjective.


Question: First a comment. It seems like, under your view of the B-theory of time, nothing ever comes into being, ever. Because coming into begin requires tensed time.

Answer: Yes, I think that is right.

Question: Secondly, how do you explain the truth value of past statements? What is the truth maker for a fact about a past event on your view, which is presentism – that the present exists and the past and future are unreal or non-existent?

Answer: OK, you are asking a very technical question here, philosophically. The view is called truth-maker theory. This is a view that some philosophers hold whereby they think that if any proposition is true there needs to be something in the world – something in reality – that makes it true. On a tensed theory of time you can’t say, for example, that dinosaurs existing during the Jurassic age make it true that there were dinosaurs during the Jurassic age. Why? Because they don’t exist anymore on the tensed theory of time and therefore they can’t be the truth makers for that proposition. I would say simply that that is a very good reason to reject truth-maker theory. I don’t think it is true that all propositions need to have truth makers. It is not implied by a view of truth that is correspondence. You can give a number of other counter examples of truths that plausibly don’t need truth makers either. Ethical truths, I would say. Also, counterfactual truths of certain sorts about what would be the case if something were the case, which isn’t the case. A very good book on this, I can’t remember the exact title now unfortunately, is a book by Trenton Merricks, who is a very fine young Christian philosopher, who has written a book called Truth and Ontology in which he argues very forcefully that this truth maker principle is simply wrong and is a too-restrictive view of truth.[2] So I don’t think there needs to be any truth makers of these past tense propositions in order for it to be the case that, for example, there were dinosaurs in the Jurassic age.

Question: I went back and forth between the different theories of time and the thing that completely convinced me that God exists within time once He created time was the whole idea that you said in God’s view Jesus would always be on the cross and evil would always exist and the devil would always be around. There would be no completion of sin, it would always be there.

Answer: Do you see the point that he is making? Let’s imagine that the event at t2 is, say, the crucifixion of Jesus. Well, even if it is true that at t3 the cross is vacant and the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen from the dead, on this tenseless theory of time Jesus is still (“still” is misleading but you see what I mean) He is still on the cross at t2. His crucifixion is earlier than the empty tomb and both of them are equally real.[3] The evil that exists in creation is never really done away with. It is never vanquished. It is always there. It is just the later portions of the block that are free of the stain of evil. But the stain still permeates the first part of the block. So this is a different objection to the tenseless theory of time and I think a very powerful one as you do. I think it is not only incompatible with creation but it is really deeply disturbing with respect to what it implies about things like the crucifixion and the reality of evil and God’s triumph over death and evil.

Question: Does this tensed view of time necessitate a rejection of the Einsteinian interpretation of relativity in which some objects can reach t2 before others?

Answer: Very, very good question. It does not entail a rejection of Einstein’s interpretation of relativity. What it would entail would be a rejection of Minkowski’s interpretation. If you remember several weeks ago when we talked about those results from CERN in which they detected neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light[4], I pointed out that there are three different physical interpretations of the equations of relativity theory: Einstein’s original interpretation, the space-time interpretation of Minkowski and then the interpretation of the Dutch physicist Lorentz. Einstein’s view, originally in 1905, is completely consistent with a tensed theory of time. He presumed that objects are three dimensional objects which endure through time. It is essentially a Newtonian view of space and time. It was only with Minkowski in 1908 that he said space and time as separate entities are doomed to fade away and only a kind of fusion of the two will remain which is this four-dimensional, geometrical space-time object. This picture of the block is a Minkowskian picture. It is a four-dimensional object (of course we can only draw three dimensions of it given our limitations, one dimension has to be suppressed) but this would be a four-dimensional block in which time is the vertical dimension of the block. A tensed theory would not be incompatible with Einstein and it would not be incompatible with Lorentz but it would be incompatible with this four-dimensional view of Minkowski. Given my commitment, theologically as well as philosophically, to a tensed theory of time, that is why I would reject a Minkowskian interpretation that is the textbook presentation in most physics books today.

Question: If I am understanding it correctly, since God has always existed, then upon creation he created time to which he entered time. Therefore, time would continue infinitely into the future. But it would then be part of time in the future.

Answer: That is my view. That would be the position I would hold.

Followup: Are you suggesting that time did not exist prior to creation or did it always exist?

Answer: That is a different question – whether or not time has always existed. That is a separate question. My own view is that there are good reasons to think that time is not infinite in the past but that time did have an absolute beginning and when God created time he entered into time in order to sustain relations with this changing spatio-temporal world that he has made. But that is a somewhat separate issue.

Followup: The timeless of God prior to creation . . .

Answer: I would put it this way. I would say the timelessness of God without creation because if you say “prior”, that is a temporal word. Then you are implying that there was a time before he created time which is self-contradictory.[5] So the way I like to talk about it is God’s situation sans creation or without creation or God alone without creation.

Followup: And therefore, given time and his involvement in time, would it not be that the future, after the world and the New Jerusalem, continue to be in the current time spectrum if you will.

Answer: That is right. Think of what the Bible promises: to those who believed in him, he gave the power to become children of God so that they might have everlasting life.[6] So this will be everlasting into the future.

Followup: It is still tensed.

Answer: Yes, that is right. But to draw it back to our discussion of creation, I think you can see why, on the four-dimensional tenseless view, there is no state of affairs of God existing sans creation, or without creation. Creation is co-eternal with God.

Followup: He is outside of time.

Answer: He is outside of time on this model and he just sustains this spatio-temporal block. Given the definition of creation that I’ve given, I don’t think you can characterize this [referring to “the block” in Figure 1] as creation. That is going to be the next point that I am going to get to. Say I am wrong – say the four-dimensional tenseless view is right. In that case, God didn’t create the four-dimensional block and yet in some way it depends on him for its being, right? It wouldn’t exist without him. So even though he doesn’t create it, what is the relation between God and the world then? Well, I am going to talk about that in the sequel here.

Question: About the tenseless view – why could God not create the time as a tenseless block? That also implies that time is infinite in the negative direction, so why couldn’t God be alone and then create this block with a beginning so to speak?

Answer: I think the reason is that what that would do is to posit a sort of hyper-time in which God creates time. So you would have to first imagine God existing alone and then – boom! – God existing with the block. Well, that is a before and after relation so there would have to be a kind of hyper-time in which God created time and then you are back to the same problem again. God would still, then, be in time. So you would be simply kicking the problem upstairs, I think.

Followup: (inaudible)

Answer: Yes, you still, then, are stuck with the A-theory or the tensed theory in the end. So that would be only if you went this route of positing this time above time which is sort of a useless fifth wheel – it doesn’t do anything and it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Question: It would appear to me that the B-theory of time is perfectly valid but only for God because he has the unique ability to go to any point in eternity past and any point in eternity future and make it equally real for him. We are stuck with temporal becoming and the A-theory. I have another comment. To me, I would define time is what fills in between sequences – sequential events. I don’t believe God created time and then entered it. His existence requires time because if He acts or even if He just thinks, those are sequential events and something has to fill in between them and it may be that He has his own system of time, which is unique to him. He can toggle back and forth between his and ours. His has no temporal becoming – it is a B theory – He is not in any way limited in time but we are. He can toggle into our sense of time or his sense of time at his will. What do you think of that?

Answer: Well, without wanting to recapitulate everything that we said when we did the attributes of God and talked about God’s relationship with time, I would say that while that view is one that many people find attractive, I can’t make sense of it. It seems to me that if you say that God is able to see all of time in a block like way and access all of it and it is all equally real for him then it must be all equally real and I just simply can’t make sense of how time could be a B-series for God but an A-series for us.[7] It seems to me that that just is to say that we have the illusion of being in a kind of time in which becoming is real and we experience a difference between past, present and future but ultimately – really – it is not. It is really just a human illusion. That just is the tenseless view. In terms of whether time is always with God, that is going to depend on whether or not you think God is changeless or not. If you do think that God is thinking sequentially, as you put it, then you are absolutely right, there will be time in between God’s thoughts. They will be ordered in time. That is a classical Newtonian view. That is Isaac Newton’s view of God – that God and time are inseparable and that, therefore, time is infinite in the past; it is the duration of God. But if you hold to the classical doctrines of God’s changelessness, or even stronger his immutability, his unchangeableness, then God doesn’t experience a sequence of thoughts so you don’t have to fill in time in between the thoughts. God’s thoughts would simply be timeless. I have real sympathies for the idea of God being timeless, at least without creation. Therefore, I am not inclined to adopt this Newtonian view.

Followup: Why would his having a thought mean that He would change? His core would not change. Doesn’t that view require that He is different now that He has had thought A before He had thought B?

Answer: You had talked about a sequence of thoughts where He thinks one thing and then He thinks something else. For example, the Son says to the Father “I love you” and the Father says to the Son “I love you” and these aren’t simultaneous, they are sequential. As you put it, there needs to be time to fill in the gaps. So that would give you a God in time, not a changeless God. That would be a God that is changing.

Followup: I just can’t see that as a change. Having a thought doesn’t really change his core attributes.

Answer: Oh, sure it does. That is a stream of consciousness. Think of you – if you close your eyes and you just experience that stream of consciousness in your mind, that is clearly mental change that is just constantly going on and would require time. If you think of God as being changeless – especially without creation – I think it is more natural to think of God as timeless.

Question: Being an engineer and not a scientist, I have an application kind of question. How does God see the future? Does God see the future? Or does He create the future?

Answer: Very good question. Notice how this question is put. I think there are interesting presuppositions being made. How does God foresee the future? Notice this kind of language – “he foresees what will happen” or “he has foresight of the future” – presupposes that God’s knowledge is on the model of sense perception. He looks and sees what is out ahead of us. On a tensed theory of time, it is difficult to make sense of that because the future isn’t there to see – it doesn’t exist. And so on a tensed view of time, the idea of God foreseeing the future doesn’t seem to make sense. I think that that is the correct conclusion to draw – it doesn’t make sense. Therefore, we should not think of God’s knowledge on the model of sense perception. That is easy and natural to do but I think it is mistaken. We should think of God’s knowledge more as a conceptualist model of knowledge. Plato thought that we never really learn anything, we just have innate ideas that we are born with and learning is simply recovering or becoming aware of those innate ideas that we already possess but are submerged in subconsciousness. That may not be a plausible model of human education but I think it is a very plausible model for God’s mind. God simply has an infinite store of knowledge of all and only true propositions and He doesn’t need to learn anything or to acquire his knowledge; He just has it innately.[8] So we should think of his knowledge more in this conceptual model rather than a perceptual model. He would know the future simply in virtue of the fact that He knows all future tensed propositions; just as He knows all past tensed propositions and present tensed propositions He knows all future tensed propositions. Or all tenseless propositions. You can make a proposition tenseless by adding in a date, like “Christopher Columbus discovers America in 1492.” There the verb “discovers” is just a tenseless verb – it is neither past, present nor future. “Christopher Columbus discovers America in 1492” – if that is ever true it is always true. Similarly, I think God could have this kind of tenseless knowledge in the state of affairs of his existing alone without creation. If you press this conceptualist model further and say, “but how does He have knowledge of these future tensed propositions” there I think the theory of middle knowledge will provide extra insight into how God knows the future. If you have a doctrine of middle knowledge, foreknowledge of the future just falls out automatically as a consequence. I will simply refer you back to our discussion of divine omniscience when we did the attributes of God and look at the section on middle knowledge. If you weren’t in the class at that time, you can go on where the podcasts are all there and available and you can listen to the lessons that were given on divine omniscience as part of our study of the attributes of God.

I think it has been good to have this discussion to review and clarify what we’ve been doing. Where I want to move next time is to ask the question, “Does the doctrine of conservation also presuppose a tensed theory of time?” I have argued that a robust biblical Doctrine of Creation presupposed that time is tensed, not tenseless. What about conservation – the doctrine that God preserves the world in being from one moment to the next? Does that also presuppose a tensed view of time? That will be the question that we will look at next time.[9]


[1] 5:03

[2] The book is indeed titled Truth and Ontology by Trenton Merricks published in 2007 by Oxford University Press.

[3] 10:15

[4] For Dr. Craig’s thoughts on this scientific development, see Q&A #233, “The Triumph of Lorentz”, found at

[5] 15:00

[6] cf. John 1:12; John 3:16

[7] 20:14

[8] 25:00

[9] Total Running Time: 27:38 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)