05 / 06
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Did God Create Time?

Closer to Truth interviews William Lane Craig

Time : 00:08:18

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer to Truth") interviews William Lane Craig on time in relation to God. Questions explored: How do you deal with God and time? What is the tensed (aka A-Theory or dynamic theory) and tenseless (aka B-Theory or static) theory of time? How do they deal with past, present and future? Who is John Ellis McTaggart? How do scientists use the 4-dimension of time? How does special relativity deal with the A-theory and B-theory of time?


Robert Lawrence Kuhn: One of the most perplexing things about reality is what seems obvious: time. We’ve all wondered about it, but when you think about time, and then you think about God, then the two together really cause complexity.

Dr. Craig: [Laughs] Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: How do you deal with God and time?

Dr. Craig: I remember one philosopher who said that if the philosophical importance of a topic can be judged by the amount of nonsense written about it, then the concept of time comes somewhat ahead of the concept of space and somewhat behind the concept of God—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs] Right, that’s good. Volatile.

Dr. Craig: —and you put God and time together, you have a subject that is truly baffling and mind-expanding—one of the deepest. I spent 13 years working on this topic as my major research interest, and it’s an inexhaustible study.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs] Alright, 13 years worth. Tell me what you learned.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think we need to talk about the nature of time most fundamentally; I think that this is the question. And philosophers have distinguished two radically different concepts of time that will profoundly affect how you view reality and I think how you view God’s relationship to time.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Okay, what are they?

Dr. Craig: One view of time is what we might call a dynamic theory of time, or a tensed theory of time, and what it says is that the moments of time are ordered by past, present, and future, and that these are real and objective aspects of reality. The past is gone; it no longer exists. The present is real. The future has not yet come to be and is not real.

And so, the future is not sort of out there, ahead of us, down the line waiting for us to arrive; the future is pure potentiality. Only the present is real. And so, things in time come to be and pass away. There is real objective, temporal becoming in the world as things come into existence and then pass out of existence. That’s the dynamic process or tensed theory of time.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: “Tensed” meaning that there are verbs which have past tenses and present tenses and future tense?

Dr. Craig: Yes, and that those tenses express objective features of reality. That’s the key.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Now, sometimes you call this the A-Theory, the dynamic theory.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. That comes from the British idealist J. M. E. McTaggart, who distinguished these two theories, I think, first of all among thinkers, and called one the A-Theory and the B-Theory. Not too descriptive, but a convenient label.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, the A is the dynamic one.

Dr. Craig: That’s right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: The one that, I would say, is the common perception.

Dr. Craig: I think it is the perception of the common man. It’s the common sense view.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: It’s a little hard to discern what is the present, because we’re moving through the present. I don’t know how long the present lasts.

Dr. Craig: That’s right, yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs] That’s a little difficult, but okay.

Dr. Craig: That’s a difficult question.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: But let’s say that now we have the dynamic theory, theory A—past doesn’t exist, future is a potentiality. Now, what’s the B-Theory?

Dr. Craig: The B-Theory, or the static theory or the tenseless theory of time, says that the difference between past, present, and future is just an illusion of human consciousness, that, in fact, all moments of time are equally real and existent. The future is as real as the present is as real as the past.

So, for the people in 1868, 1868 is real and we are in the future. For the people in 2050, we are in the past and the present for them is real. But all of those are just subjective standpoints of those observers. In fact, if you could stand back and see things from a sort of God’s-eye point of view, all moments in time are equally real, and temporal becoming is just a subjective psychological feature of human consciousness, not a real feature of the world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Moving in this path.

Dr. Craig: That movement, that sense of movement, is a purely subjective illusion of consciousness.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Because each place in this four-dimensional space-time block is equally real.

Dr. Craig: That’s correct, and that is one way to conceive of it, is that the universe is a four-dimensional reality, not a three-dimensional reality, which elapses or goes through time. Really, things are extended in four dimensions, and the whole space-time block, that whole four-dimensional block, just exists timelessly. And this point of view, though very counter to the common sense view of time, is very prevalent among physicists and people in the scientific community and certain philosophers as well. [1]

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Yeah, why is that?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think the main reason is that thinking of reality in four-dimensional terms makes the special and general theories of relativity very easy to grasp. It’s easy to make a space-time diagram on a piece of paper in which the horizontal dimension represents space and the vertical dimension represents time. And you can represent the whole process there on a diagram, which depicts space-time. And I think many scientists interpret the diagrams as literal representations of reality, that reality really is a four-dimensional space-time block.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Because the interpretation is that absolute space and absolute time have been shown to be erroneous by Einstein?

Dr. Craig: I think that that is one of the major motivations behind the adoption of this B-Theory, or tenseless theory, of time is the belief that the A-Theory, or tense theory, is incompatible with special relativity. Now, in fact, I don’t think that that is true at all. I think it’s completely compatible with special relativity. But I’m sure you’re right, that this is one of the major motivations for adopting this four-dimensional view.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Let’s try to understand the B-Theory, the tenseless theory of time, because that’s the one that’s certainly counter-intuitive to our normal way of thinking. What does that mean, tenseless? How do I deal with the fact that my children were born sometime in the past and I can’t use a tense to describe that? Is there a sequence of events?

Dr. Craig: Yes, sequence is still real in the sense that the events in time are related as earlier and later than each other. And that is a real and objective relation. But what the tenseless theorists deny is that things are really and objectively past, present, and future.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, they can order things in an earlier or later sense, but they don’t put a past tense on it as if it once existed and now does not.

Dr. Craig: That’s correct. Your birth is always earlier than your death, whether they lie in the future, whether one is in the present, or whether both in the past—your birth is always earlier than your death. But you see here the word “earlier” has been robbed of all tense. There’s no sense in which that which is earlier is past. It is a relationship which is akin to the less-than and greater-than relationship that stands among numbers.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: By saying robbed, you’re showing your own prejudice, I think.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is an emotionally loaded term.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Others may say you strip out the artificiality that a human mind has injected into it. [Laughs]

Dr. Craig: [Laughs] Absolutely, that is what they would say, and they would say that there is no mind-independent becoming or presentness of reality. So, it’s a radically different interpretation of the world than the common sense view. [2]

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    Total Running Time: 8:18