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#717 Wielenberg on God and Time

January 31, 2021

Hello, Dr. Craig. I've been trying to learn about the Kalam and what its defenders and opposers have to say. Obviously, I started reading your work for a defense of the Kalam. But recently Dr. Erik Wielenberg, who you have debated before, published an article titled "Craig's Contradictory Kalam: Trouble at the Moment of Creation". In it, one of his arguments goes something like this: you, Dr. Craig, have argued that God is "in time since the moment of creation." But you have also argued that God must have been timeless in order to have created space-time. So at the moment of creation, God was both atemporal and temporal - a contradiction. How would you respond to this? Thank you, Dr. Craig, for your work and for your time.


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Dr. craig’s response


Prof. R.T. Mullins, the editor of the issue of the journal Theologica in which Erik Wielenberg published his critique, invited me to write a reply, which would also be published in the journal (January 1, 2021, DOI: https://doi.org/10.14428/thl.v4i3.58143). So I can share with you here what I say there.

Wielenberg argues as follows: “God must be temporal at t1 because the universe exists at t1; yet He must be timeless at t1 in order to have the power to create the universe at t1.  Craig’s various commitments therefore imply that at t1, God is both temporal and timeless – a contradiction.”

On my view God is, indeed, temporal at t1; but I do not think that in order to have the power to create the universe at t1, He must be timeless at t1 (that is to say, it must be true at t1 that God is timeless). Even in possible worlds in which God freely refrains from creation, so that there is no time at which God exists, He has the power to create a world. Omnipotence is a modal property which does not entail any exercise of God’s creative power. So existing timelessly sans the universe God has the power to create the universe. His actual exercise of that power is simultaneous with the beginning of the universe and the first moment of time. So the contradiction is illusory.

In short, I have not been able to discern in my hypothesis any logical incoherence.


A bizarre twist has just occurred regarding this exchange with Erik Wielenberg. Editor Mullins has contacted me informing me that Wielenberg had noticed a misquotation on my part in my response to his paper. Wielenberg is convinced that the difference is philosophically significant, and so Theologica agreed to give him the opportunity to write brief counter-reply to my response.

Surprised and embarrassed at this development, I asked Editor Mullins to tell me what the misquotation was. When he did so, it puzzled me that I could have made so obvious a mistake. No doubt I had just cut and pasted the quotation from the original into my response. So I checked the original version of Erik’s paper that the journal had sent to me. Lo and behold, my quotation was correct after all!

It turns out that during the editorial process Wielenberg had submitted a revised version of his paper, as is perfectly normal, but that the journal had neglected to send me the revised paper! So my reply was to the original paper rather than to the revised, published paper. So Theologica going to post an erratum notice acknowledging its mistake along with Wielenberg’s counter-reply. Whew!

So what is the difference between the original version and the revised version? Here they are side by side:

Original Version: “God must be temporal at t1 because the universe exists at t1; yet He must be timeless at t1 in order to have the power to create the universe at t1.” 

Revised Version: “God must be temporal at t1 because the universe exists at t1; yet He must be timeless at t1 in order to have, at t1, the power to create the universe.”

The original does not specify when God has the power in question, whereas the revised version does; and the original specifies the power to create the universe at t1, whereas the revised version specifies simply the power to create the universe. Does the revision make a difference?

I have not seen Wielenberg’s counter-response. But it seems to me that the change serves only to introduce a logical incoherence to which I do not ascribe. It is logically incoherent to say that a timeless God has at t1 a certain power. A timeless God doesn’t even exist at t1, much less possess any properties at that time! What I say is that God must exist at t1 in order to have at t1 the power to create the universe. No problem!

- William Lane Craig