Doctrine of Creation (Part 6)

September 23, 2012     Time: 00:33:40

We have been talking about the Doctrine of Creation and last time we simply had a sort of review and, I think, a helpful discussion time of the concept of creation in contrast to the notion of conservation. You will remember last time I argued that a robust, biblical Doctrine of Creation involves commitment to a so-called tensed, or dynamic, or A-theory of time as opposed to a tenseless, or static, or B-theory of time. That is to say, we should not think of time as part of a four-dimensional space-time block or manifold that just exists in a tenseless way co-eternally with God. Rather, things come into being and go out of being as time passes. Therefore, temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of reality and creation involves God literally bringing something into existence which formerly did not exist.

Conservation and the Tensed Theory of Time

The question that I want to raise this morning is, does the doctrine of conservation of the world also commit you to a tensed theory of time or is it consistent with a tenseless view of time? At first blush, it might seem that the tenseless view of time would be much more consistent with the idea of time as a sort of four-dimensional space-time entity. [Dr. Craig draws an illustration on the board – see figure 1]

Figure 1- A tenseless view of time

Let’s imagine this is the space-time block and time is the vertical dimension of this block and we can imagine that events occur at various places in this four-dimensional space-time block. We can think of God as existing outside space-time and simply maintaining it in existence. He is being causally related to every point in space-time and keeping it in being. So we might think that on this construal of time, God could indeed be thought to conserve some entity, let’s say e, which exists here at, say, t1 until some later time t2. So God simply, tenselessly, sustains e in existence from some earlier time to some later time. But I think a moment’s reflection reveals this to be problematic. On a tenseless theory of time, it is false that e actually endures from t1 to t2. What you really have is just different slices of e that exist at these different times. So if you have the slice down here, the segment of this stick e what exists up here is really something else, e’ let’s call it. It is a different slice. It is sort of like a loaf of bread where one end of the bread isn’t the same as the other end of the bread but the bread is just sliced up into different slices. Similarly, on this four-dimensional view of time, it is really false that e endures from some earlier time to some later time. e never “moves;” e is just “stuck” at its location but it is part of an extended space-time worm as we might call it, or four-dimensional object, and it is one initial segment of it in here and e’ is a later segment and these are quite distinct entities. They are not the same at all. So on a tenseless theory of time, God really doesn’t conserve e in existence from some earlier time to some later time.[1]

We can also see the problem with this notion if we think of some entity that exists only at a certain time, say, some entity x which exists only at t2. It just exists for a single instant. Clearly, x depends upon God for its existence, but he doesn’t conserve x in being, right? Because x doesn’t endure from one moment to another, it only exists at t2. It doesn’t exist at any other instant; it is simply something that exists at a single instant. So even though it depends on God for its existence, God can’t really be said to conserve x because x only exists at one instant. Or, what about the whole four-dimensional space-time manifold? What about the whole thing? Clearly this whole thing depends upon God for its existence and yet God can’t really be said to conserve it in being because he doesn’t preserve it from one moment to the next, it just exists tenselessly, co-eternally with God. Time is just an internal dimension of this block but the whole block just exists, in a sense, timelessly with God. Yet, it is clear that God is the source of being; of all of these entities. He is the source of being for e, e’, x and for the whole four-dimensional space-time block.

Similarly, suppose there are objects that exist but don’t exist in time? Like what? Well, the number 2. Or the set of all odd numbers {1, 3, 5 . . .}. Or the square root of 9. There might be all sorts of abstract objects that exist timelessly. A serious Doctrine of Creation would have to say that these things depend upon God for their existence if they are real. They can’t exist independently of God and yet God can’t be said to conserve these in being because they don’t exist in time, right? So they can’t be preserved from one moment of time to another. Remember, that is how we defined conservation – conservation is God’s acting on some entity to preserve it in existence from an earlier time to a later time. That would clearly be inapplicable to timeless entities if there were such things – such as abstract objects like numbers.

It seems to me that what we need here is some third category of how God relates to the world that is different from creation and conservation. What might we call that? Let me just invent a term – why don’t we say that God sustains these things in being? We are going to characterize sustenance as a different property than conservation or creation. So God creates things on a tensed theory of time when he brings things into being, he conserves things in being on a tensed theory of time when he preserves something from an earlier time to a later time. But if a tenseless theory of time is true, or if there are timeless objects like numbers, then God neither creates nor conserves them. Rather, I am saying he sustains them in being. This would be sustenance, another category in addition to creation and conservation.

How might we define sustaining? How about this: God sustains e if and only if either e exists tenselessly at some time t or e exists timelessly and God brings it about that e exists. I’ll repeat that. God sustains e if and only if either e exists tenselessly at t (that would be the case of things like x and e and e’) or e exists timelessly (that would be the case with these abstract mathematical objects that don’t exist in time) and God brings it about that e exists.[2] That is what I am suggesting we mean by sustenance. God brings it about that these things exist but they exist either tenselessly in time or they are timeless.

So, what that implies is that the very idea of conservation is also committed to a tensed theory of time. It is not just creation that commits you to a tensed theory of time but, I think, conservation also commits you to a tensed theory of time. Conservation of a being is necessary if the being is to endure from an earlier time to a later time. If that same being is to exist through time then it requires God’s conservation. By contrast, on a tenseless theory of time, conservation is not only unnecessary, it is excluded. There cannot be any conservation on a tenseless theory of time; neither is there really creation in a robust sense of the universe. Rather, the proper relationship would be sustenance. God sustains things in being; he sustains the four-dimensional universe in being, he sustains in being everything in it and he would sustain in being anything that exists timelessly.

What that suggests is that if we do hold to a doctrine of creation and conservation that are, I think, robust, biblical doctrines, we are also committed to this tensed view of time – that time is dynamic, temporal becoming is real and we don’t exist in just a four-dimensional block universe.


Question: Just looking at that and thinking of a bad analogy of a playwright and a play, why couldn’t it be said that God created the universe and then he created a plan for the universe and opened the curtains?

Answer: OK, think about what you just said. He created the universe and then he did something else. That “then” indicates a temporal relationship.

Followup: OK, created a universe which included a plan.

Answer: Yes, he certainly could do that. But in that case, I don’t think you have real creation. What you have got is simply God sustaining the universe in being with a beginning to the play, or beginning to the drama. This analogy that you have used is one that I think C. S. Lewis tried to use but faultily in my opinion. Lewis said that God is like the author who is outside the novel, or the play, and the novel or the play is what happens in the universe and God is outside of it – he knows the end from the beginning, he has written the whole thing. The difficulty with that is the novel or the play always are co-eternal with God. There is never any point at which God begins to write the novel and brings it into being. Once you say that then you are going to posit a time above time. You are going to have a second-order time. First there is just God alone and then he writes the novel and – boom! – the whole four-dimensional block exists. Then maybe say he is done with the novel and it’s just God again or something like that. And that means you have really a higher hyper-time and you are just back to the same difficulty again. God then has to still be in time. He would be in this hyper-time or second-order time.

Question: If we build this concept from the verse in Hebrews – that the universe was formed at God’s command, the universe is visible, God’s command is invisible – and if we understand that everything is made by God’s word (the invisible part), then he finished the creation in six days but his command has not yet finished. He continues. So the invisible command actually will become visible as human life lives out according to his purpose. So it is almost like the end of time is complete in God’s mind and then his invisible qualities are communicated with people of faith as Hebrews 11 demonstrated.[3] Each person lives out his function as if it is a mathematical function of time and each person has just one value of time and as they live out their function they actually bring that invisible factor into visibility so we are able to see God’s plan unfold as it goes.

Answer: The question is – if I understand you right – is that unfolding of God’s plan that you talk about something that really happens? Does the plan really unfold, do things really happen, or is that just an illusion of human consciousness? If you say it really unfolds, then you are agreeing with a tensed view of time. If you say no, it doesn’t really unfold, it just looks like that then you are agreeing with a tenseless view of time. Like a movie film lying in the can – all of the frames are already existing, they are all in the can already and it just looks like they are happening when it is projected on the screen but in fact, really, it is all there. The difference between the dynamic and static theory of time is very much like the difference between the film as it lies in the can (and all the frames are there) and the movie watched on a screen where there is real becoming that is actually happening. I think you want to say, I hope, that this plan really does unfold, right?

Followup: It does because, as Hebrews 11 lists out all the people – the heroes – of faith, what they are doing is making it visible as it unfolds. When Jesus came, he actually showed us how to snap into the equation. He is the equation of the function and if we believe in him and learn to snap into that equation we will be able to live out this function God intended. So as each person, by faith, lives out that function, the picture will unfold with God’s purpose in a clear integrated way.

Answer: OK.

Question: The part of the problem with grabbing the whole of this greased monkey is a finite mind trying to understand the infinite. My favorite cosmological verse is Romans 4:17 that God calls all things as though they are – the not-being as being. So he is not bound by time, although he gives us a time spectrum to work through. There is a series going on with Brian Greene based on his book on time and space and these types of things and they had one episode on the shooting of the arrow. The arrow goes one way, not back the other way towards the archer and you demonstrate that that’s the way it should be with increasing entropy. You have that in time and space that we are locked into but God, in Romans 4:17, supersedes time and space and I am not sure we can necessarily come to a way that he does that. I always look at God operating in the infinite now.

Answer: Romans 4:17, I think, is an affirmation of creation ex nihilo. It says, “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” That, to me, is an expression of a tensed theory of time. It’s not that these things tenselessly exist and later on they sort of are visible whereas before you can’t see them. God calls them into existence. It says he calls into being the things that do not exist. So I take that, again, to be supportive of this idea that things really do come into being and therefore this block universe view is theologically unacceptable. You have to be very, very careful in watching these popular scientific programs about time and space because they are almost overwhelmingly physicalistic and reductionistic.[4] I think this identification of time’s arrow, so to speak, with the direction of increasing entropy is a perfect example of that. At the very most, increasing entropy is evidence of the arrow of time but it wouldn’t constitute the arrow of time. There is no reason to treat time in this reductionistic way. Time can exist without the second law of thermodynamics. It can exist without physical space even. Someone mentioned last time that just a series of mental events in a person’s stream of consciousness would generate a before and after. So be very critical when you listen to these programs on scientific understandings of time and space because they are so often reductionistic in a physicalistic way.

Followup: I would agree but that supported a tensed view of time and why we need to have one and this was physical support for such a thing.

Answer: OK.

Question: Could you speak to where the abstract objects do exist or maybe how they exist?

Answer: They don’t exist anywhere any more than they exist at any time. If there are these things, they are not in space. Remember, this is space and time here [pointing to the illustration on the board – see figure 1] – time is the vertical dimension and space is these lateral dimensions. We have repressed one dimension of space because we can’t picture it here on this blackboard but we suppress one dimension of space and we imagine these two dimensional spatial planes slicing this four-dimensional (three-dimensional in the picture) block. This is space, this is time. So if there are these abstract objects, like the square root of 9, they don’t exist anywhere and they don’t exist at any time. They would just transcend space and time. Now, that is problematic I think. I personally don’t think that these things do exist but a lot of people do so I want to think of how would a doctrine of the world’s dependency upon God look from their point of view even though I don’t agree with that point of view. The mainstream Christian position has been that these sorts of entities exist in God as God’s ideas so that they are not something separate from him. They are concepts in the mind of God. That has been the mainstream Christian position historically.

Question: It would seem to me that regardless of whether you look at a tensed or untensed theory of time, we still have this hyper-time problem. Whether God brings the universe into existence as a four-dimensional space-time block or as a linear progression of events there still would need to be a “time before time” in which God exists by himself before he brings the universe into existence.

Answer: Let me interrupt at this point. Even if that is the case, it would not need to be a higher time, or a hyper-time. It would just be an extension of the same time back before creation. So let’s imagine, here is the creation event (the Big Bang) and that time goes on from there. The question is: did time begin at the Big Bang or, as you suggest, is it the case that in fact prior to the Big Bang there was God and this just goes back infinitely. I think you can see that here we are not talking about another time dimension; it is just extending the same dimension backwards. To have a higher time dimension, you would have to have the dimensions be at right angles to each other so that if this is our time t0 and here is t1, t2, t3 and so forth that would have to endure through this hyper-time which is at a right angle to our time [see figure 2].

So here would be the Big Bang [the point at (T0, t0)] and here would be the same event [the point at (T1, t0)] and here is the same event [the point at (T2, t0)] and this block would just endure through the hyper-time. So I think you can see that is very different from just saying time goes back forever just as it goes forward forever.[5] It is not a higher time; it is not a second time dimension. It is just saying there was time before creation. That is an issue that is very much disputed among philosophers and theologians who think that God is in time. I would say most of them who think that God is in time now probably think that time goes back before creation forever. I don’t think that but I think that is what most of them would say.

Question: If I understand this model of the tenseless space-time continuum, I think one of the things that I don’t understand is how does it account for the causal relationship between events? In other words, if e is a loaf of bread and I decide to eat it at t1 and it no longer exists at t2 but if I decide to not to eat it then maybe it still exists at t2 and where does free will come in?

Answer: This has been recently a subject of discussion in the open forum on the Reasonable Faith website. I think you are raising an interesting question. You are saying, in what sense can e be the cause of e’ because they don’t exist at the same time. It seems like causation requires that you would have some kind of influence from one moment to the next. That doesn’t seem to exist here in a sense. I think this is going to depend on what you mean by causation. I think that what the tenseless theorist could say is that e’ is caused by e in something like this sense: if e didn’t exist, or if it hadn’t existed, then e’ wouldn’t have existed either. The problem is that is not a very good definition of causality but it does seem like they are going to have to think of causation in a different way because on this view things don’t really bring things into being. They don’t really bring new things in existence.

Followup: People make decisions and decisions have consequences and that has an impact on what you see inside the block.

Answer: You asked about free will - again, I guess what the person could say is that because there isn’t any determinism on this from one earlier event to a later one that it does allow room for free will. I do think that is right. If there isn’t determinism then that would allow room for free will even though the future is just as real as the present.

Question: On your diagram you have this object e and it looks like e is, on the B-theory of time, a four-dimensional worm that begins at one point and ends at another. Is e’, the later state, is that a different object or is it a different temporal part of the same object?

Answer: Both. It is a different temporal part of this whole space-time worm here [Dr. Craig circles the dark grey area in figure 1 – the e and e’ slices]. But what I have labeled here as e and e’ are different parts of it, like different segments. Like a loaf of bread that is sliced into slices and this is one heel and that’s the other heel and they are both parts of this whole loaf of bread. But obviously, the one heel is not the same object as the other heel. They are different objects. So e and e’ are different objects. Think of what this implies! If this is supposed to be a person – if this is you – that means that the person who came into this room an hour ago isn’t the same as the person that is sitting here now. It is just a later stage of this four-dimensional worm. So nobody endures through time; you are literally not the same person you were a second ago because you are a different object. That really occasions interesting theological problems for, say, divine judgment. Why should the person who appears before the judgment seat of Christ be blamed or punished or rewarded for what some earlier, quite different person-stage did back along time ago? Why are you being punished for something that somebody else did? Yet, that is what that amounts to on this view when persons are these extended four-dimensional objects.[6]

Question: In 100 AD, was the apostle John actually looking at future events when he was shown them?

Answer: I think that is going to depend on which theory of time you adopt. You could say, if you are a tenseless time theorist, that those events that are happening at the end of the history are actually real and they exist and they are just as real as the events that John in 100 AD was experiencing and somehow he had a vision of those events. On the tensed theory of time, I think what you would say is, no, he wasn’t really seeing those events because they don’t exist; he was having a foreshadowing of them, a kind of visual image of what would eventually happen but he wasn’t seeing them as they actually exist. Remember last week, I think it was, that I said that is why I think the metaphor of God foreseeing the future is very misleading. It implies that God’s knowledge of the future is like perception – that he looks ahead somehow and sees what is out there, what is up there. On a tensed theory of time we shouldn’t think of God’s foreknowledge of the future on the model of perception because there isn’t anything there to see.

Question: Taking a tensed view, you could actually say that God actually joined creation, not in the sense of the visible which is temporary, but just like we have a spiritual body that is not seen. Maybe the things in Revelation aren’t the end of time but a judgment, a refreshing.

Answer: Certainly God joins in creation in the incarnation – doesn’t he? – which is a nice segue to this Christmas time of year. In the incarnation, we believe that the second person of the Trinity took on a human nature and actually entered into our physical space-time universe. So he actually existed at a point in time in history in his human nature. So in that sense, God certainly does join in creation in not only creating the universe but actually entering into it in the person of Christ by assuming a human nature.

I think with that we will draw it to a close. Next time we will look more closely at the doctrine of conservation with regard to the doctrine of concurrence. Does God cause everything that happens in the universe or does he simply allow things to happen to be caused but he is not really the cause himself? We will examine how God concurs with the operations of secondary causes in the universe to bring about everything that happens.[7]


[1] 4:57

[2] 9:58

[3] 15:12

[4] 20:02

[5] 25:00

[6] 29:55

[7] Total Running Time: 33:39 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)