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#125 Divine Eternity and Intra-Trinitarian Relations

September 07, 2009

Dr. Craig - after reading your popular level book ‘Time & Eternity,’ I became so intrigued by the subject matter, I obtained the Video presentation. I then subsequently ordered ‘God, Time and Eternity,’ ‘The Metaphysics of Relativity,’ and both the ‘Tenseless and Tensed Theory of Time.’

The crusade did not end there as I then moved on to purchase ‘Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity,’ ‘Time, Tense and Reference,’ ‘Time, Reality and Transcendence in Rational Perspective,’ and a host of other collateral materials in order to obtain a more than superficial grasp on Relativity theory, the A-Theory and B-Theories of time, the reality and knowledge of tensed facts, and quantum mechanics, etc.

I am absolutely intrigued with your resolution concluding that God as timeless prior to creation and temporal sans creation. Moreover, the neo-Lorentzian solution to rebut or undercut arguments for timelessness based on STR has began an entirely new crusade (the same with to presentism, etc.). There is scant material written by conservative theists that truly grapple with these issues in a coherent and cutting edge fashion (except Deweese). In fact, just the opposite is the case.

Be it God and time, the KCA, Molinism, or ‘Reasonable Faith,’ I am very much indebted to your ministry as it is central to my own calling, and also mtin preparing high school and junior college students for the intellectual, moral and emotional battle that lay ahead of them. It is unfortunate that the church largely ignores these issues, or worse they promote sub-standard materials that only endorse the illusion that faith and reason are divorced from one another, and the only consequence of reading materials such as Reasonable Faith is intellectual hubris. Called to an apologetics/evangelism ministry can be more then lonely--it is even hostile. Your ministry helps with the loneliness or hostility one receives from a pastor that just cannot see the relevance.

The introduction aside, I do have a question for you which arises from the context of arguments against an atemporal deity. Specifically, it springs from an argument dealing with the logical coherence of a “personal” atemporal (unchanging, perfect) God. Historically speaking, arguments defining personhood (which are typically functional) are notoriously easy to refute by applying the proposed criteria to someone that is in a coma, asleep or even daydreaming. Moreover, it is often assumed that either “atemporality” or “temporality” are essential properties when they are really accidental or contingent properties.

There is an answer to one argument, however, that has been somewhat difficult for me to unpack. The argument is that God cannot be both personal (perfect, immutable) and in time because a timeless God cannot engage in inter-personal relationships. The response provided by you and others is that the Trinity obviously fulfills this criteria because of the relationship between the Godhead--whether God is either atemporal or temporal, which seems to be the proper and logical response.

However, if God is atemporal defined traditionally (i.e., in the Boethian, Thomistic, Leftow, Stump and Ktretzmann sense), then how is it possible for the specific persons in the Godhead to have inter-personal relations?That is to say, if they are atemporal and each person of the trinity knows and wills everything at once--given the traditional definition--then what is there to relate to? To utilize a terribly anthropomorphic intuition, if I know what you want, and do everything in exactly the same way you do, desire everything you desire, then what do we have to talk about? How can we make one another laugh? Sure, we can relate, but perhaps we over-relate to the point of boredom.

This is somewhat similar of God’s knowledge of the future, including future contingents and counterfactuals. It seems that that same issue creeps up--if I know everything you are thinking (assuming there is a stream of thoughts [which can be sequential but not necessarily in time] if time is relational), then how is it that there can be a relationship. It’s as if there is too much of a relationship. That is, you can can label this as the problem of omniscience and trintarian inter-personal relationship.


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    Dr. craig’s response

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    Thanks, Keith, for the encouraging words! I see you’ve been bitten by the “time bug,” too! Many of my students and colleagues at Talbot have been similarly smitten, and it amazes me how questions of time come up constantly in my Defenders class with ordinary laymen as well. Next to the concept of God, I think the concept of time is the most fascinating and mind-expanding subject you can contemplate!

    It may have been just a slip on your part, but you misstated my view of divine eternity, which is that God is timeless sans creation and temporal with (or since the moment of) creation. Again, I don’t hold that God sans creation is immutable, but rather that He is changeless. Changelessness is a de facto, not a modal, property; that is to say, something can be in fact changeless even though it has the capacity or power to change. Since I think God does change in creating the universe, I take His changelessness sans creation to be merely a contingent property which He sheds at the moment of creation.

    So your question is how the three persons of the Trinity can be both personal and timeless. The easy answer would be to say, “Simply by being changeless!” On a relational view of time, there is no before and after in such a changeless state, and therefore no time. But what you’re really asking is whether personal relations can be changeless. Well, why not? According to the classic doctrine of perichoresis, the three persons of the Trinity share mutual love, knowledge, and will. Take love. Why can’t two persons love each other changelessly? I don’t find this at all conceptually difficult. I just don’t see any difficulty in there being unconditional, positive regard and even emotional attachment between two unchanging persons. Again, it doesn’t take any time to know something. So two persons could know each other intimately and thoroughly without changing. And volition: two unchanging persons can will the same thing in a changeless way. Change just doesn’t seem necessary for two persons to relate in the way perichoresis requires.

    It seems to me that your real stumbling block arises, as you seem to recognize, because of an overly anthropomorphic conception of God, that is, you think of Him in finite, human terms (or as one British journalist recently put it, as some sort of chap). Certainly being related as I have described to any finite good would be unfulfilling and perhaps even torturous. But God is infinite goodness and love. That is why He, and He alone, can satisfy our deepest longings forever and never become boring. He is inexhaustible in His greatness and therefore the proper object of His own desires. Thus, it is unthinkable that the Father could ever become bored of the Son! They don’t need to talk and tell jokes to entertain themselves.

    So what you’ve really stumbled upon, it seems to me, is an argument for God’s infinitude from divine timelessness and changelessness.

    - William Lane Craig