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#360 Theological Arguments in Support of an Infinite Past

March 09, 2014

Hello Dr. Craig,

I hope you are fine.

I have theological objections to your proposition that an infinite regression of events into the past is impossible.

I adhere to a particular Islamic denomination and my denomination doesn't accept the view that it's impossible for there to be an infinite regression of events into the past. This is mainly for three reasons:

First and most importantly, if you claim that an infinite regression of events into the past are impossible, then that means that you claim that it was impossible for God to be creating from eternity. If you claim that, then that means that you are claiming that there was a point in which God wasn't able to create, hence compromising His attribute of Omnipotence. So basically you are claiming that God "LATER ON" had the "ability" to create. But if you do affirm that it was always possible for God to create, then basically you would be conceding that an infinite regression of creations are possible, hence rendering your argument to be false.

Secondly, "action is a sign of life". Surely God is always active (i.e. He is always exerting His attributes) and isn't at any point idle like an idol. God's actions are a sign of His Perfection and for Him to be idle would make Him less perfect, than if He were to be acting. So it's expected that God is always "doing something" and since God is eternal, that would mean that there is an infinite series of "events" (whether they are physical creations or mental events or so on) in the past.

Thirdly, there is no reason to believe that there was ever an "idle phase" where God wasn't creating. You would have to offer a plausible reason as to why God suddenly decided to begin being active and start creating. What has "changed" exactly, most especially if God was in a state of timelessness prior to creation as per your claim?

I would greatly appreciate you taking time to answer my questions.

Thank you,


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Dr. craig’s response


I'm surprised to learn that there is a contemporary sect of Islam which apparently sides with the medieval practitioners of falsafa (philosophy) in opposition to the orthodox practitioners of kalam in holding creation to be past eternal. I’m not persuaded that your three arguments should lead us to abandon the majority view.

1. Although you later acknowledge that I, like al-Ghazali, take God to be “in a state of timelessness [causally] prior to creation,” your first objection seems to presuppose precisely the opposite, namely, that there was in my view a sort of empty time in which God existed prior to creation. How else can we make sense of your comment that “basically you are claiming that God ‘LATER ON’ had the ‘ability’ to create”? In my view there is no “later on” or “earlier than” in God’s state of timeless existence. Since earlier/later are temporal relations, such a view as you describe would be self-contradictory. As Ghazali explained, when we think of God existing, say, one hour before He created the universe, that is purely a fantasy of the human imagination. In reality there was no such point. For that reason it is false to allege that the impossibility of creation from eternity entails that “there was a point in which God wasn't able to create.” The are no points of time in eternity and, hence, no point at which God was unable to create. Time begins at the moment of creation.

(Actually, as I think about it, it occurs to me that your argument is fallacious even if there was an infinite series of temporal points prior to creation! For from any point in the infinite past at which God chose to create there is only a finite distance to the present, just as any negative number you pick is only finitely distant from 0, even though there are an infinite number of negative numbers. From the fact that at any point in an infinite past God is able to create a world, it does not follow that God was able to create a world with an infinite past.)

2. Idleness again assumes time, during which one does nothing. But God does not endure through time sans creation, since time begins at creation. Therefore, He cannot be idle. True, He must be changeless in such a state. But changelessness does not imply inactivity; it requires only constancy of any activity. Here the theological superiority of a trinitarian view of God, as opposed to a unitarian view of God such as we have in Islam, begins to emerge. In the timeless fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is constant and unchanging mutual love, knowledge, and will. There need be no series of events in such a state, nor has God need of creatures to express His attributes.

3. We have theological, philosophical, and scientific grounds for thinking that the world has not existed from eternity past and, hence, for God’s not having created from eternity. The Bible begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1.1), and orthodox Islam concurs with this teaching. I’ve defended kalam cosmological arguments for the finitude of the past. The evidence of astrophysical cosmology confirms the conclusion to which those arguments lead us.

To say that time and the universe had beginning doesn’t imply that “God suddenly decided to begin being active and start creating.” His decision to create is a timeless decision, not preceded by any period of indecision (indeed, any period of time at all!). It is free in that it was up to Him whether to create or refrain from creation, and there are possible worlds in which He does refrain. He could not have created any sooner than He did, since there is no “sooner.” I do think that God’s act of creation is like a change, in that it is something that He wasn’t doing before ( since there was no “before”), and therefore God is in time since the moment of creation. So on my view God is timeless sans creation and in time since the moment of creation.

- William Lane Craig