Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature edited by Gregory E. Ganssle, David M. Woodruff (Oxford University Press) This is a collection of previously unpublished essays about God's relation to time. The essays have been selected to represent debates between those who believe God to be atemporal and those who do not. The essays highlight issues such as how the nature of time is relevant to whether God is temporal and how God's other attributes are compatible with his mode of temporal being. By focusing on the metaphysical aspects of time and temporal existence, the text contributes to philosophical theology within the analytic tradition.

The various essays in this book reveal that, in this introduction, we have touched only lightly on a few of the issues that are raised when pondering God's relation to time. In the first essay, "The Eternal Present," Brian Leftow investigates Boethius's concept of eternity to give a new and deeper understanding of what the life of an eternal God is like. He distinguishes eternity from atemporality on the basis of the claim that an atemporal thing both is timeless and has no duration. An eternal being, on the other hand, has a life characterized by an event. God is a living being, and it is the fullness of his life that demands that none of it slip away into the past. Rather, he has "perfect complete possession of all his life at once." This conception of eternity implies that God's life has certain properties that are what Leftow calls "typically temporal." Typ­ically temporal properties (TTPs) are those that are generally such that whatever has them is temporal, and any temporal thing is temporal in virtue of having these proper-ties. In order to be temporal, a being or thing must have the right sorts of TTPs. God's life has some TTPs but not others. As such it has duration, though not temporal duration. It does not pass away, nor does it have any part that passes away. God's life, how-ever, is an event. It is an event with no temporal duration but with other modes of du-ration. It is a permanent event. God's life also has a present, Leftow argues. God's present is a non-temporal present. God's "now" is not a temporal now. The term "now," according to Leftow, picks out when the speaker tokens it. Not all whens are times. Eternity, Leftow argues, is also a when.

One of the strengths of Leftow's essay is that it shows that the eternalist position does not imply a poverty of the life of God. Rather, it is the richness of God's life that requires him to be eternal. This position goes far in removing the idea that those who think God not to be temporal think of him as something like an abstract object. What-ever God's relation to time is, he is a person. In fact his is the most fully realized life that is possible for a person.

In "Atemporal, Sempiternal, or Omnitemporal: God's Temporal Mode of Being," Garrett DeWeese argues that neither the standard view that God is temporal nor the classical view that God is atemporal captures the mode of God's life. God cannot be temporal because, DeWeese argues, all temporal things are contingent and God is not. God also cannot be atemporal because no atemporal thing can be a concrete entity. The reason no atemporal thing can be concrete is that an entity must be a possible relatum in a causal relation. No atemporal thing can be such a relatum. DeWeese sup-ports this way of distinguishing concrete from abstract entities on the basis of the claim that causation is a temporal relation. DeWeese thinks that no satisfactory account of timeless causation has been or can be given. If causation is temporal and the ability to stand in causal relations is a mark of a concrete entity, only temporal things will be concrete. No traditional theist will hold that God is abstract. God stands in many causal relations with the created world. Therefore, traditional theists ought to think that God is not atemporal.

DeWeese holds that God is neither temporal nor atemporal. Rather, he is omnitem­poral. To be omnitemporal is to be in metaphysical time (though not physical time) and to be a metaphysically necessary being. To be metaphysically temporal is to have one's temporal properties defined with respect to metaphysical time rather than phys­ical time. For example, God's "now" is not determined by the physical now of any particular reference frame. God's now is the present of metaphysical time. Indeed God's present conscious experience is what grounds the now of metaphysical time. Metaphysical time is God's own time. Metaphysical time, as grounded in God's mental life, is as necessary as he is. While physical time is contingent, metaphysical time is not and, therefore, it does not infect God's being with contingency. An omnitempo­ral God, being both metaphysically necessary and able to stand in causal relations, avoids the pitfalls of both the temporal and atemporal notions of God's mode of being.

In "Divine Foreknowledge and the Arrow of Time: On the Impossibility of Retro-causation," Alan G. Padgett takes up one kind of argument to reconcile the foreknowl­edge of God with human freedom. This is the attempt to say that retrocausation is pos­sible. If retrocausation were possible, a solution to the problem of reconciling divine

foreknowledge and human freedom would be readily available. When I act freely, I perform an action that actualizes astate of affairs. My actualization of this state of af­fairs causes God to have certain beliefs about which states of affairs are actual and which are not. Furthermore, my action causes it to be the case that God has always had the belief in question.

Another way to look at this is to say that some of the beliefs that God had in the year 1000 are up to me. My action today causes him to have some of the beliefs that he had in the year 1000. If I choose to have Fruity Pebbles for breakfast, then God's belief has always been that I have Fruity Pebbles. If I, on the other hand, choose Lucky Charms, I cause God to have believed that I would have Lucky Charms. My action today can cause things to happen in the past.

Padgett argues that such retrocausation is impossible. It is impossible not only on one view of time, he claims; whether or not the world is timeless and, if time exists, whether the process or the stasis view of time is correct, retrocausation is impossible. It is fairly simple to show retrocausation to be impossible in the first two kinds of worlds. A timeless world cannot be one in which retrocausation occurs because retrocausation is inherently a temporal relation. There can be no temporal relations in time-less worlds. If time exists and the process theory is true, then retrocausation is impos­sible. It is impossible because only existing things have causal efficacy and only existing things can be acted upon.

. In worlds that are temporal but in which the stasis theory of time is true, the argu­ment is trickier. Padgett considers stasis worlds in which the distinction between backward and forward becomes relative to local or global considerations and those in which the direction of time is constituted by increase in entropy. He concludes that in neither of these worlds is retrocausation possible. If Padgett's analysis is correct, then anyone who proposes a solution to the foreknowledge and freedom debate that assumes the possibility of retrocausation will have to make explicit how such causation is possible. Padgett has shown that it is not likely that such an attempt will be successful.

In "God inside Time and before Creation," Dean Zimmerman turns to two puzzles that temporalists face. The first is the question of whether time necessarily requires in­trinsic change. Here temporalists face a dilemma. Either the past is finite or it is infi­nite. If the past is infinite, then God has existed throughout an infinite number of finite intervals of time. Supposing that he created the universe a finite amount of time ago, then God existed throughout an infinite duration of time by himself. If time requires in­trinsic change, then God was continually changing intrinsically throughout this infi­nite duration. Zimmerman claims that this position is not theologically well motivated.

If the past is finite, then either God himself has a finite past history, in that he ex­isted throughout all time but his past is not infinite, or he was atemporal "before" the creation of the universe and became temporal as a result of his real relations to the changing reality. This dilemma, Zimmerman thinks, will motivate the temporalist to reconsider the doctrine that time requires intrinsic change.

The second question for temporalists is why God created when he did. If God en­dured an infinite duration of time before creating, it seems as though he has no good reason to create at one moment rather than at any other moment. It turns out, Zimmer-man argues, that one can hold that God existed unchanging before creation and did not choose to create when he did arbitrarily. But the temporalist can hold this position

only by rejecting substantivalism about times.

If substantivalism about times is true, either there was one partless extended time

before creation or there were many. If there was more than one, then the question of why God chose to create when he did emerges again. If there is only one, we are left with the idea of an extended period of time that is partless. Zimmerman grants that some things (events or states of affairs) might be partless, but it is hard to see that a period of time could be partless.

The best answer is to give up on substantivalism about times. On a relationist view,

before creation there could have been a temporal duration with no way of dividing it into periods whose lengths can be compared, so, Zimmerman states, "you cannot take some portion of the event and say that there must be either finitely many or infinitely many discrete parts of the event of comparable length in the whole period. And since the state is initial there is no beginning of time, no earlier `first moment' distinct from

this state."

The questions that a temporalist must face about time before creation, then, are not

devastating to the view that God is temporal. God did not create when he did arbitrar­ily, and he did not have to exist through an infinite series of times changing intrinsically all the while.

In "Time Was Created by a Timeless Point: An Atheist Explanation of Spacetime,"

Quentin Smith rejects both the theistic and the standard atheistic explanation for the beginning of the universe. The theist holds that God caused the big bang. The standard atheistic story is that the big bang was uncaused. Smith holds that the big bang, and hence all of spacetime, was caused. It was caused by a simple timeless point. This hypothesis, Smith thinks, is to be preferred to the theistic hypothesis because it can be shown to be more probable. According to Bayes's theorem, the probability of a hypothesis is a function of both its prior probability (that is, its probability independ­ent of the evidence to be weighed) and its posterior probability (that is, its probability on the evidence being considered). Smith argues that, although the timeless simple point as the cause of the universe and God as the creator each has about the same prior probability, the simple point theory has a higher posterior probability than theism.

If the prior probabilities of each hypothesis are about the same, we must turn to the a posteriori probabilities in order to determine which hypothesis is more probable overall. Smith argues that the simple point hypothesis is more probable given the evi­dence of current cosmologies. The particular evidence that is relevant is that in its first instants the universe was in "a completely unstructured state, i.e., a state of utter chaos or maximal disorder." This state is exactly what we should expect on the hypothesis that the cause of the universe is "a timeless, partless, attributively simple, and totally lawless cause." The hypothesis that an omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good person created the universe would lead us to expect something else altogether. We would predict that such a being would begin spacetime in "a very beautiful and magnificent way that exhibits an admirably high degree of naturally good order." The evidence, then, combined with the observation that most theistic explanations of the initial disorder seem to be ad hoc, leads us, Smith claims, to prefer strongly the simple point hypothesis to the theistic one. Smith's conclusion is that the most reasonable hypothe­sis is that the spacetime universe was caused to exist by a timeless simple point. Thus, there is an explanation for the existence of the universe but the explanation does not require God.

William Lane Craig, in "The Elimination of Absolute Time by the Special Theory of Relativity," examines the implications of both the special and the general theories of relativity for God's relation to time. He points out that it is commonly thought that relativity theory has decisively refuted the notion of absolute time. If this refutation had been accomplished, the process theory of time (A-theory) must be rejected. Einstein's rejection of absolute space and time, it turns out, was a result of a philosophical commitment to positivism that he inherited from Mach. As Craig writes, "The mean­ing of `time' is made to depend upon the meaning of `simultaneity,' which is defined locally in terms of occurrence at the same local clock reading." In other words, to be meaningful, "time" had to refer to something measurable by physics. Given this pre-supposition, if local clock readings turn out to be relative to inertial reference frame, then time itself will be held to be relative as well. The positivism on which Einstein built his theory has long since been discredited both in philosophy and in physics. Rel­ativity per se does not eliminate absolute time.

Craig goes further and argues that if God is everlastingly temporal, his time implies' that a Lorentz-Poincaré theory of relativity is correct. There is an absolute time. God's time is absolute time. Craig also shows that the common reasons for rejecting the Lorentz-Poincaré theory are not compelling.

In pursuing which measured time coincides with God's time, Craig explores the general theory of relativity. There are models in the general theory that posit a universal, cosmic time. This cosmic time, Craig claims, is God's metaphysical time. Much of Newton's thinking about time, including the distinction between physical time and  metaphysical time and the existence of absolute time, has been vindicated. If God is temporal, absolute time exists. This theological position can be shown to be compatil ble with both the special and the general theories of relativity—that is, once the theo ries have been purged of archaic philosophical commitments.

Edward R. Wierenga, in "Timelessness out of Mind: On the Alleged Incoherence of Divine Timelessness," points out that two of the major objections to divine timelessness are the claims that a timeless God cannot be omniscient and that a timeless God cannot be a God who acts. Wierenga investigates a recent development of each of these objections by Richard Swinburne. Swinburne's formulation of each objection is based on certain metaphysical principles concerning time and events. The principle that is most important for the first argument against timelessness is that things do not possess properties at instants. Since Swinburne holds a timeless God is omniscient at an instant, timelessness turns out to be incoherent. Wierenga raises two objections to Swinburne's argument from his principle to the incoherence of timelessness but focuses on criticizing the principle itself. Any plausible construal of time or motion, ', he argues, shows that things do have properties at instants. Swinburne's principle ought to be rejected.

The second objection to timelessness is that a timeless God cannot perform actions. Swinburne argues for this claim based on the causal theory of time. From the causal theory of time, Swinburne concludes that backward causation and simultane­ous causation are impossible. All that is left is causation through time in which the cause precedes the effect. If God is a cause, then he must precede in time his effects.

Therefore, he is temporal. Wierenga raises several objections to this move as well. One objection is against the idea that simultaneous causation is ruled out by the causal theory of time. Another is that Swinburne's account assumes that God's causing something will be a case of event causation rather than agent causation. Wierenga concludes that Swinburne has not shown timelessness to be incoherent.

In "Direct Awareness and God's Experience of a Temporal Now," I explore the implications of William Alston's claim that God knows what he knows without having any beliefs. Most discussions of God's knowledge assume that we ought to under-stand God's knowledge as being something like a propositional attitude, just as we understand human knowledge. Alston has challenged this construal of divine knowl­edge. God knows what he knows, Alston claims, in virtue of his direct awareness of facts. He does not have propositional attitudes at all. I argue that if God knows what he knows by direct awareness, then God must be atemporal. If God is temporal, he can-not have absolute immediate awareness of past or future facts. Absolute immediate awareness cannot span time. A knowing subject who is temporal can have direct intu­itive awareness only of those facts that are temporally present.

My argument that direct intuitive awareness cannot span time focuses on God's ex­perience of a temporal now. A temporal God will experience what is happening now in a manner that is different from his experience of the past or the future. As a result, God's cognitive experience of past or future facts must be mediated in some way. If some kind of mediation is present in God's cognition, it is not absolute immediate awareness. Therefore, a temporal God can have direct intuitive awareness only of present facts. In order to have direct intuitive awareness of all facts, regardless of their temporal locations, God must be atemporal.

William Hasker disagrees in "The Absence of a Timeless God." He argues that God's knowing by direct awareness does not imply timelessness. In fact, it requires that God be temporal. Timeless intuitive knowledge, he argues, is incoherent. For God to have timeless intuitive awareness of all facts, he would have to have aware­ness of some facts when they no longer (or do not yet) exist. Hasker argues that facts can be known only when they exist, so God cannot have timeless intuitive awareness of all facts.

Hasker considers what he calls a "medieval" solution to this argument. Perhaps facts do not exist only in time but also exist in eternity. Considerations similar to this one are found in Boethius and Anselm. God has direct awareness, then, of all facts and entities not when they exist in time but when they exist in eternity. Hasker rejects the medieval solution because the idea that physical things exist literally in eternity as well as in time is implausible.

Hasker raises one other objection to the timelessness of God. He argues that a time-less God could not know which moment is present. He can know all facts of the form "event e happens at time t n," but he cannot know which event is occurring now. As a result of these objections, Hasker concludes that a timeless God is indeed absent. The God who exists is temporal.

Paul Helm, in "The Problem of Dialogue," takes up another aspect relevant to God's relation to time. This issue is God's relation to the world, specifically, his rela­tion to human beings. The Scriptures affirm that God is in relationship with human beings. Being in relationship seems to imply the possibility of real give-and-take.

Several attributes of God seem to make rear give-and-take impossible. Can a timeless God enter into dialogue? Furthermore, can a God who knows what you are going to do and say ahead of time engage you in a genuine dialogue? Helm examines two proposed solutions to the problem of divine-human dialogue: he ultimately rejects the solution proposed by William Alston and argues that Richard Swin­burne's solution is sufficient to preserve genuine dialogue but comes at too high a cost. Helm claims that his own solution can preserve divine-human dialogue at a much lower cost than Swinburne's. Furthermore, Helm's solution, contrary to Alston's, can preserve genuine divine-human dialogue even if it turns out that God determines every event.

The last two essays, Thomas Senor's "Incarnation, Timelessness, and Leibniz's Law Problems" and Douglas Blount's "On the Incarnation of a Timeless God," cover the same topic. Can a timeless God become incarnate? Senor argues that timelessness is incompatible with the Incarnation. Senor defends his previously published argu­ments against two objections similar to Blount's. First, he defends his argument against the objection that it proves too much. Not only timelessness but many other divine attributes are shown, it is claimed, to be incompatible with the Incarnation. Second, Senor defends his claims against one of the ways that philosophers have at-tempted to explain the compatibility of timelessness and the Incarnation.

Senor argues that it simply is not the case that his argument will support the claims that properties such as omniscience are incompatible with the Incarnation. In order for these to be incompatible, it must be the case that Jesus, as a human being, could not have had the property in question. While it is not common or essential for human be­ings to be omniscient, it is not obviously impossible for a human being to have this at-tribute. Furthermore, there is nothing in the observable properties that Jesus had that

requires him to have been omniscient. It was, on the contrary, observable that he was temporal.

Senor discusses the attempt to show that timelessness and the Incarnation are com­patible. The most common approach is via the "qua-move." He explains three ways this move can be interpreted, and he finds each of them to be unsuccessful. The inter­pretation that is closest to Blount's two-natured view of the Incarnation is "S-qua-N is F' (or "Jesus qua human being is temporal but Jesus qua Second Person of the Trinity is timeless"). Senor claims that this move leads the one who holds it into the heresy of Nestorianism, in which "it is not the single person of the Redeemer who bears these

properties but rather the divine nature bears the divine properties and the human na­ture bears the human properties."

Senor also discusses another move that is similar to the previous one. Rather than bringing the qua-move into the subject, perhaps we can push the qua into the proper-ties. So rather than thinking of the Redeemer qua Second Person of the Trinity as om­niscient but the Redeemer qua human being as limited in knowledge, perhaps we can think of the Redeemer as omniscient qua God but limited in knowledge qua human being. Senor argues that this move can be made, but only at a high cost. One cost is that of denying the Law of Excluded Middle. (It is not true that the Redeemer is either omniscient or not omniscient.) The other cost is to deny that there are any properties such as omniscience simpliciter. Senor calls this move "nominalism about the tradi­tional divine properties."

Neither of these moves is very promising. Senor concludes that the doctrine of di-vine timelessness is incompatible with the Incarnation in a way that other divine at-tributes are not and, therefore, it should be rejected by Christian philosophers.

Blount defends the compatibility of timelessness and the Incarnation against argu­ments that Thomas Senor has raised in previously published works. (It ought to be noted that neither Senor nor Blount consulted the other's chapter in preparing his own.) If Senor's arguments are successful, Blount claims, they will provide equally strong reasons for rejecting many of the traditional attributes of God including divine omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. No orthodox Christian philosopher will accept such conclusions. Something, then, must have gone wrong with the argu­ments. Blount identifies where he thinks Senor's arguments go wrong and he thus thinks that Senor's arguments against the compatibility of divine timelessness and the Incarnation fail.

Blount goes further than this defensive move by providing an explanation of how it is possible that a timeless God be incarnate. A "two-minds" view of the Incarnation, such as has been defended by Thomas Morris and is reflected in the Chalcedonian creed, provides the resources for understanding the compatibility of the divine nature and the human nature in one person. Blount shows that on this view of the Incarnation, a timeless God can indeed become man.

The essays in this volume demonstrate that the issues raised in working out a con­vincing position regarding God's relation to time are varied and complex. We are con­fident that these chapters will help push the discussion in new and exciting directions. There is, to be sure, much more work to be done. We submit these essays as an invitation to philosophers and theologians to join us in exploring God and time.

Headline 3

insert content here

WT Main | About WT | Review Links | Contact | Review Sources | Search

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Headline 3

insert content here