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#364 Can an Atemporal Being Be Personal?

April 05, 2014

Dear Dr. Craig

I am a christian student from norway. During a debate about if god exists or not (on a facebook group called political youth)

I defended his existence to the best of my ability, using the kalam cosmological argument. i had seen on your youtube videos, and on your articles here on RF. However, i encountered a problem. Someone else tried to undercut the argument using the problem of existence of an unembodied mind beyond time and space. i fear i cannot counter this, and i struggled to find an explanation to this on your pages.

The argument he used goes as follows:

"A thinking creature has will, reason and make choices based on reasoning. A creature beyond time and space can therefore not make the choice, since he is not bound by time and his reasoning can not work in any particular order. To act as the external cause behind the universe's existence could thus not the creator be a thinking being ("a mind") and therefore has not the same properties as the Christian God or any other gods. Second is "existence beyond time and space" a non-falsifiable concept and therefore have no place within logic. "

I believe he was concerned with the order of operations a mind uses, and its inability to function when not bound by time and space. He specifically refered to your arguments. So, basically due to the way a mind functions, it requires time to do it.

Do you have any answers for this? any help would be much appreciated.


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Photo of Dr. Craig.

Dr. craig’s response


Receiving your question, Håvard, brought back memories of our lovely visit to Bergen two years ago! It’s nice to know that folks in Norway are drawing on Reasonable Faith resources.

I’ve actually addressed your question in a number of places, so let me give you the references and keep my answer brief:

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

God, Time, and Eternity (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), chapter 2.

Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001), chapter 3.1.

The first of these is available on this site. The second is largely the same as the first. The third is a more popular level version for the non-philosopher. It’s doubtless available through your inter-library loan service.

Let’s look briefly at your friend’s arguments. The second need not detain us, for it is terribly confused. What does he mean when he asserts, “‘existence beyond time and space’ [is] a non-falsifiable concept and therefore [can] have no place within logic”? This statement is a mess. Concepts are neither falsifiable nor non-falsifiable; propositions are. So presumably he’s complaining that the proposition “God exists beyond time and space” is non-falsifiable and so has no place in logic. But what does that mean? No one is claiming that such a proposition is a logical truth like the Law of Contradiction or the Rules of Inference such as modus ponens, modus tollens, etc. I suspect that what your friend is expressing is the old falsification principle of meaning, namely, that a proposition is meaningful only if it is, in principle, capable of being empirically falsified. But if that’s what he means, you need to inform him that, like the verification principle of meaning, the falsification principle is an arbitrary and utterly implausible principle which virtually no contemporary philosopher believes. In any case, the proposition “God exists beyond time and space” is falsifiable, and I claim to have falsified it! In the above cited books I offer two arguments against divine atemporality which I believe to be sound and persuasive arguments. Worse, your friend himself claims to have falsified it! For his first argument is that there cannot exist a God beyond time and space. Thus, his second argument (insofar as I can make sense of it) stands in contradiction to his first.

So the really interesting argument is the first. It is an old argument that has been pressed against divine atemporality. The detractor of divine atemporality argues that the statements

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. The properties that your friend has in mind are reason and rational volition. He has to show both (i) that these properties are essential to personhood and (ii) that they cannot be exemplified timelessly.

I agree that these properties are essential to personhood. But I see no reason to think that they cannot be exemplified timelessly. Consider reason. Your friend seems to confuse reason with discursive reasoning, which is an elongated process of arriving at conclusions by inference from premises. Discursive reasoning on God’s part is ruled out not so much by God’s timelessness as by His omniscience. An omniscient being cannot reason discursively because He already knows the conclusions to be arrived at! Even if God is in time, He does not engage in discursive reasoning. But, obviously, He is not impersonal as a result.

Defenders of divine timelessness have frequently pointed out that the act of knowing something need not take any time at all.1 Without going into the debate over what it means to be rational, we may say rather confidently that God’s being timeless impairs neither God’s noetic structure (His system of beliefs) nor His ability to discharge any intellectual duties He might be thought to have. Since He is omniscient, it’s pretty silly to think that God could be indicted for irrationality!

What about volition? I see no reason to think that free volition cannot be exemplified by a timeless God. Again, omniscience alone precludes God’s deciding in the sense of making up His mind after a period of indecision. Even a temporal God does not decide in that sense. But God does decide in the sense that His will intends toward one alternative rather than another and does so freely. It is up to God what He does; He could have willed otherwise. This is the strongest sense of libertarian freedom of the will. In God’s case, because He is omniscient, His free decisions are either everlasting or timeless rather than preceded by a period of ignorance and indecision.

So I have yet to see a sound argument against the coherence of a timeless, personal being. My own view is that God is timeless sans creation and in time since the moment of creation.

  • [1]

    1. Nelson Pike, God and Timelessness, Studies in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), p. 124; William Mann, “Simplicity and Immutability in God,” International Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1983): 270; Paul Helm, Eternal God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 64-5; John C. Yates, The Timelessness of God (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990), pp. 173-4; Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity, Cornell Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 285-90.

- William Lane Craig