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#218 Is There a Contradiction in God’s Creation of Time?

June 20, 2011
Q

The Law of Contradiction states that two mutually exclusive statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. The statements "God exists and the universe does not exist" and "God exists and the universe exists" are mutually exclusive statements and do not differ in respect. The only way to avoid a contradiction, if both are to be asserted, is to assert that each is true at a different time. But if we take the word "universe" to mean both space and time, and affirm that time itself had a beginning, then time only exists provided that the statement "God exists and the universe exists" is true, and time does not exist provided that the statement "God exists and the universe does not exist" is true. And if time does not exist, provided that the statement "God exists and the universe does not exist" is true, then there is no time at which that statement is true. But if that is the case, then must we not conclude that each of these statements cannot be true at different times, and so that to maintain that God existed at a time before the universe existed is self-contradictory? Would it not also lead to the conclusion that if God is the cause of the universe, the universe must co-exist eternally with Him and therefore has no beginning? Or would that only lead one to the bizarre but not necessarily self-contradictory conclusion that the universe had a beginning and yet there was no time at which the universe did not exist?

Travis

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

This is a delightful brainteaser, Travis! Your informal statement of the Law of Contradiction is, “Two mutually exclusive statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect.” Let’s accept that statement. So consider the two statements:

1. God exists and the universe does not exist.

and

2. God exists and the universe exists.

These are, as you put it, mutually exclusive, that is to say, they cannot both be true without qualification. But why is that? Each statement is a conjunction, and there is obviously no incompatibility between their initial conjuncts—indeed, they are the same: “God exists.” So any incompatibility between (1) and (2) has to be between their second conjuncts. Adding God the picture does nothing to generate a contradiction, anymore than if we were to add “Obama exists” as a conjunct to each. The real problem, then, is how

1*. The universe does not exist.

and

2*. The universe exists.

can both be true, since they are logically contradictory. The theist who believes that God created time and the universe believes that (1*) and (2*) are, indeed, both true in the actual world. But how can he avoid running afoul of the Law of Contradiction?

You say, “The only way to avoid a contradiction, if both are to be asserted, is to assert that each is true at a different time.” But, as you point out, that is impossible, given that God created time. For at no time is (1*) true. To think that there was once such a time is to postulate a time before time began, which is logically incoherent. So you are quite right to conclude that “each of these statements cannot be true at different times, and so . . . to maintain that God existed at a time before the universe existed is self-contradictory.”

Is the defender of creatio ex nihilo thus trapped in self-contradiction? Not at all! For it does not follow from the Law of Contradiction that “The only way to avoid a contradiction, if both are to be asserted, is to assert that each is true at a different time.” For the Law states merely that the two mutually exclusive statements “cannot both be true at the same time,” not that they must be true at different times. And even though (1*) and (2*) are not true at different times, still they are not true at the same time. (2*) is true at every time (assuming that time begins at creation); but (1*) is true but not true at any time. (1*) is true relative to the state of affairs of the actual world which is God existing timelessly sans the universe. This state of affairs is causally prior to the universe but not temporally prior to the universe.

So it does not then follow that “if God is the cause of the universe, the universe must co-exist eternally with Him and therefore has no beginning.” God existing alone sans the universe is simply timeless, and time comes into being with the universe at the moment of creation. Hence (1) and (2) do not violate the Law of Contradiction: they are not true at the same time.

So I agree with and wholeheartedly endorse “the bizarre but not necessarily self-contradictory conclusion that the universe had a beginning and yet there was no time at which the universe did not exist.” (This conclusion is actually an implication of the standard model of Big Bang cosmology!) What I would add is the even stranger, but non-contradictory, conclusion that God exists timelessly without the universe and that (1) is true relative to that state of affairs.

- William Lane Craig