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#37 God and Timelessness

December 31, 2007

Hi Bill,

I certainly share your belief that dynamic time is so well-established both experientially and metaphysically that we must understand God’s temporal nature in light of what we know about time. I have concerns about your view, as you know, though quite different from [Paul] Helm’s. If you have a chance I’d be interested in your response to this one point.

By my lights, propositions about atemporal entities have their truth-values at all times--such propositions will be true at all times. To say that true that 7 is (tenseless) odd is to say that it is true now (tensed) that 7 is odd. That is, tenselessly true propositions are true at all times.

So it seems that you would have to say that God is (tenseless) atemporal, so it is true now that God is atemporal. But, of course, that won’t do, so I suspect you’d want to say that God is (tenseless) atemporal sans creation, so it is true now that God is atemporal sans creation. But I don’t think that will do either. Atemporal entities have their properties atemporally--which is to say, I think, eternally, immutably, essentially. Only temporal entities can undergo change in their properties. That being so, then it follows that God is (tenseless) atemporal simpliciter, which entails that he is now atemporal, but also he is now temporal--clearly a contradiction.

It seems to me, then, that you need a different semantics for tenselessly true propositions that explains their relation to tensed statements of the same proposition (and clearly that can’t be cashed out in terms of a token-reflexive temporal indexical). Perhaps you have a way to cash this out in terms of a non-temporal token-reflexive phrase indexical, but I don’t see how that would work.

Any thoughts?


United States

Dr. craig’s response


Thanks for your comments, Garry! I don’t think the difficulty you initially raise is a severe problem. Tenselessly true propositions are temporally indexed, e.g., The Allies invade Normandy on June 6, 1944. I think you’re right to say that such propositions are true at all times.

Now not all propositions about atemporal entities are tenseless, e.g., 3 is the number of apples on the table. That is true right now. The tenseless version of this arithmetical statement will also require a temporal index, e.g., 3 is the number of apples on the table at 2:00 p.m. PST, December 26, 2007. Even pure mathematical statements have implicit temporal indices indicating the times at which they are true. This is evident in that if time has a beginning or end, they are not true at times that don’t exist.

Now God’s state of existing timelessly sans creation can serve logically as a sort of temporal index. So God exists timelessly sans creation is tenselessly true and therefore true at all times. So it is true now.

But now you say, “Atemporal entities have their properties atemporally--which is to say, I think, eternally, immutably, essentially.” This is quite a different objection! If this is true, my proposal goes down the drain regardless of the initial difficulty you raised. But what I came to see as a result of my study of God and time is that there is no good reason for this common assumption; indeed, I think it’s false. To be timeless a thing must be changeless, but that’s no reason to ascribe the modal property of immutability to such a being, much less having all its properties essentially. Even an immutable being could have different properties in different possible worlds.

Of course, if a timeless being changed, it would no longer be timeless; but that’s not to say that it cannot change. There’s a logically fallacy lurking here:

1. Not-possibly (God is timeless & God changes)
2. God is timeless
3. Therefore, not-possibly (God changes)

(3) does not follow logically from (1) and (2). All that follows is

3*. Therefore, God is unchanging.

So if God is timeless, he is also unchanging, but it does not follow that He cannot change. I’d say that He can change and if He were to do so, He would cease to be timeless. And that’s exactly what I think He did. Whether God is timeless or temporal is a contingent property of God, dependent upon His will. What is impossible is changing while remaining timeless. But it seems to me that a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless.

- William Lane Craig