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#7 God, Time, and Creation

June 04, 2007

Dr. Craig, you seem to believe God exists outside of time when there is no universe [God (a)] and inside of time when there is a universe [God (b)].
My question: Which of the two created the universe?
God (a) cannot create the universe because a timeless being cannot “create” [“create” is a temporal action].
God (b) cannot create the universe because a being which exists in time cannot create the time from which He creates.


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Dr. craig’s response


I wonder if you realize, Blake, that you’ve just presented an argument that the Christian faith is incoherent in claiming that God created the universe?  For God is either temporal or atemporal, and, according to your argument, creation makes no sense on either alternative.  So much for the doctrine of creation!

The problem of God, time, and creation is a knotty one,  and I came to propose the view I defend in God, Time, and Eternity (Kluwer, 2001) and in Time and Eternity (Crossway, 2001) precisely to solve this conundrum.

Let’s first get clear on the view I propose. In describing my position as the view that “God exists outside of time when there is no universe and inside of time when there is a universe,” your use of the word “when” could lead to misunderstanding. If taken literally, it would imply that there was time prior to the creation of the universe.  I think that time began with the first event, which I take to be God’s first creative act.  So I prefer to state my view in the following way:  God is timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe

The reason I hold God to be timeless without the universe is that I think that an infinite regress of events is impossible, and, according to a relational theory of time, in the absence of any events time would not exist. The reason I hold God to be temporal since the beginning of the universe is that the creation of the universe brings God into a new relation, namely, co-existing with the universe, and such an extrinsic change alone (not to mention God’s exercise of causal power) is sufficient for a temporal relation.

And, of course, it goes without saying that God (a) and God (b) are not two Gods, but one entity described in two states.

So let’s consider first the second horn of your dilemma: “God (b) cannot create the universe because a being which exists in time cannot create the time from which He creates.”  A similar argument for divine timelessness has been offered by the Oxford University philosopher Brian Leftow, so you are in good company!  In my opinion, however, this assertion is false (see God, Time, and Eternity, pp. 19-23).  Leftow thinks that if God is contingently temporal, He cannot at a time t create t because His action at t presupposes t’s existence:  t’s existence is explanatorily prior to God’s action at t.  I disagree.  On a relational theory of time, time is logically posterior to the occurrence of some event.  So on a relational theory, God’s acting is explanatorily prior to the existence of time.  All God has to do is act and time is generated as a consequence. So God could both create t and exist at t.

Now consider the first horn of your dilemma:  “God (a) cannot create the universe because a timeless being cannot ‘create’ (‘create’ is a temporal action).”  As medieval philosophers loved to point out, we must distinguish two very different senses of this claim:

1.  Not-possibly (God is timeless & God creates the universe)
1.´  God is timeless & not-possibly (God creates the universe)

The ambiguity in the first horn of your dilemma  is like the ambiguity of the sentence “It is not possible for the white house to be brown”—do we mean “It is not possible that the house be both white and brown” or that “It is not possible for the white house to become brown”?  Understood in the first sense the sentence is true, but understood in the second sense it is false.

So think about (1).  Whether you think it is possible for God both to be timeless and to create the universe will depend, I am convinced, upon your theory of time.  According to the so-called tensed or A-Theory of time, temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of the world, as things come into and go out of being.  But on a tenseless or B-Theory of time, all events and moments of time are equally real, and temporal becoming is an illusion of human consciousness.  Now on a B-Theory of time I think it’s easy to see how God  can create the universe in the sense that the universe contingently depends upon God for its being.  The whole four-dimensional spacetime manifold just exists as a block on this view, and God exists “outside” the block and sustains it in being.  On this view creating is not necessarily a temporal action;  God can create timelessly.  So (1) is false.

On the other hand, if you adopt an A-Theory of time, as I am strongly inclined to do, then (1) is true.  For at the first moment of its existence the universe quite literally comes into being.  God’s real causal relation to that event will be new to God at that moment, and therefore God must be temporal at that moment.  On this view creating truly is, as you say, a temporal action and therefore in creating the universe God must be temporal.  So on an A-theory, (1) seems to be true.

But what about (1´) on an A-Theory of time?  If God is timeless, is He incapable of creating a universe?  Is He somehow imprisoned in timelessness, frozen into immobility?  I see no reason to think so.  The claim that if God is timeless, it is impossible for Him to create the universe is based upon the assumption that timelessness is an essential, rather than contingent, property of God.  But as in the case of the color of the house, I see no reason to think that God’s being timeless or temporal cannot be a contingent property of God, dependent upon His will.  Existing timelessly alone without the universe, He can will to refrain from creation and so remain timeless; or He can will to create the universe and become temporal at the first exercise of His causal power.  It’s up to Him.

So on the view I propose, God exists timelessly without the universe with a timeless intention to create a universe with a beginning.  He exercises His causal power, and time as a result comes into being, along with  the first state of the universe, and God freely enters into time.  It all happens co-incidentally, that is, together at once.  This is, I own, a mind-boggling conclusion, but makes better sense to me than the alternatives.

- William Lane Craig